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New USDA Dietary Guidelines - What Parents Should Know

January 22, 2021 4 min read

For the first time in history, the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines provide recommendations for all life stages, including infants and toddlers. The guidelines help parents make informed feeding decisions and provide ideas for establishing smart, lifelong habits for babies when it can matter most -- at the start. 

3 Key Takeaways For Parents

  1. The guidelines recommend introducing your baby to commonly allergenic foods like peanuts, egg, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, soy and sesame at 4-6 months. 
  2. The guidelines suggest that introducing common allergens regularly can reduce the risk of your baby developing a food allergy.
  3. The guidelines urge for a variety of complementary foods every day. Diet diversity is great for babies and is a key early habit in lifelong, healthy eating.

“The USDA says: ‘Make every bite count.’ This couldn’t mean more than it does in early life. When your baby is only taking a few bites a day in the beginning, making every bite count is something you can master. The USDA now recommends the introduction of common allergens at the same time as all the other complementary foods. So when you and your baby decide it’s time, don't hesitate on common allergens. In fact, waiting can increase food allergy risk.”

- Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer at SpoonfulONE

Want more details and a breakdown of the USDA guidelines? Keep reading.

Why is this a big deal?

For the last 40 years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans has been a trusted resource for promoting good health, nutritious eating habits, and disease prevention. Published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), these guidelines are used to set standards for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs.

With a new version released every five years, the Dietary Guidelines have a significant influence on doctors, dietitians, nutritionists, pediatricians, and health professionals everywhere. They also shape the decisions parents make for their families and children.

For the first time in history, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines provide recommendations for all life stages, including infants and toddlers. This edition also marks the first time the guidelines address food allergy prevention - recommending that potentially allergenic foods be introduced to infants starting at 6 months.

Parents now have a new and authoritative resource when it comes to their little one’s healthy eating habits. Here are the key dietary takeaways when it comes to your infants and toddlers.

New Dietary Guidelines for Infants and Toddlers

Starting Solids & Introducing Nutrient Dense Complementary Foods

Once your child has reached 4-6 months old, they generally will be ready to try their first complementary foods in addition to human milk or infant formula feedings. Complementary foods are necessary to ensure adequate nutrition (iron, protein etc) and exposure to flavors, textures, and different types of foods. Since all babies develop at different rates, check out if your baby is ready for complementary foods with our guide to introducing solids.

Introduce Potentially Allergenic Foods To Infants

In the new 2020-2025 guidelines, the USDA suggests that “it is important to introduce potentially allergenic foods along with other complementary foods” within the first 4-6 months of life.

By introducing potentially allergenic foods, including peanuts, egg, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, fish, and soy, the dietary guidelines suggest that this can reduce the risk of developing a food allergy.

Furthermore, pediatricians agree there is no evidence that delaying the introduction of allergenic foods, beyond when other complementary foods are introduced, helps to prevent food allergy. In fact, delaying introduction may increase risk for babies.

These recommendations also align with the AAP policy that supports exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, with the introduction of potentially allergenic foods at 4-6 months.

Create Healthy Dietary Patterns With Diet Diversity

By exposing your infant to different flavors, textures, and types of foods, you introduce a variety of foods across the spectrum to ensure your infant meets critical growth and development goals.

Don’t get stuck in a rut with the same foods, keep trying new things with your baby every single day! Diet diversity every day helps a baby for a lifetime.

Supporting Healthy Nutrition In Their Second Year

Keep up diet diversity and allergen exposure

To support nutrient adequacy, a variety of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods (including lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, nuts, and seeds), dairy (including milk, yogurt, and cheese), and oils should be introduced in your child’s second year of life.

It takes months to years for the body to “know” the comfort we all want to have with all foods. Children are less likely to be atopic or allergic when they are exposed to diet diversity early in life and throughout the first 2 years.

By encouraging foods from all food groups, you are not only helping in the critical growth of your child but establishing healthy food patterns that will follow them for life.

If your child has not yet taken to a certain food group, don’t lose hope and do carry on trying! The updated guidelines suggest that it may take up to 8-10 exposures for an infant to accept a new type of food. The repeated offering of foods increases the likelihood of an infant accepting them.

Engage in responsive feeding

A feeding style that emphasizes recognizing and responding to the hunger or fullness cues of an infant or young child, responsive feeding helps children learn how to self-regulate their food and beverage intake. Look for signs that your child may be hungry or thirsty, such as:

  • Reaching for or pointing to food
  • Opening their mouth when offered a spoon
  • Getting excited when they see food
  • Motions to their mouth with hand movements, or making sounds to let you know they are hungry

Alternatively, an infant or child can let you know they are full by showing signs such as:

  • Pushing food away, pushing food out of their mouths with their tongue
  • Closing their mouth or turning their head when food is offered
  • Uses hand motion or makes sounds to let you know they are full
The Bottom Line: Make Every Bite Count!