SAN DIEGO—Certain foods consumed by young children—specifically cheese, hotdogs, whole and 2 percent milk—are leading to excessive intake of saturated fat and sodium in their daily diets, according to new research presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference in San Diego, April 26-30.
Since milk is key in children's diets and a top contributor of many important nutrients including protein, calcium, thiamin, riboflavin and vitamins A, D, B12, the recommendation is not for parents to limit milk but instead to offer lower fat options such as 1 percent and skim. Other sources of saturated fat should be limited in the diets of young children.
Researchers drew the findings are from a recent analysis of the 2008 Nestle Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), the largest, most comprehensive dietary intake survey of parents and caregivers of young children.
"The first years of a child's life are a critical period of development. Instilling good eating habits during this time can help put a child on the path to a healthy future," said Kathleen Reidy, Dr.P.H., R.D., and head of nutrition science, Nestle Infant Nutrition. "Our findings indicate snacks are a significant portion of young children's diets, and families can play an important role by planning nutritious snacks, especially when on-the-go."
Reidy and Denise Deming, Ph.D., of Nestle, presented two abstracts on the recent analysis of FITS 2008 at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference. Reidy, lead author of an analysis examining top food sources contributing to energy (calories), saturated fat and sodium intake in the diets of toddlers (12-23 months) and preschoolers (24-47 months), found:
- A few foods contribute almost 50 percent of daily calories, including milk, cheese, bread and rolls, ready-to-eat cereals, poultry (chicken and turkey) and butter, margarine or other fats.
- Preschoolers are consuming nearly one-third, or about 400, of their total daily calories from solid fats and added sugars.
- Top foods representing 70 percent of saturated fat intake include milk, cheese, butter, hot dogs/bacon, beef, poultry and cakes/cookies.
- Top foods contributing almost 40 percent of young children's sodium intake include milk, hot dogs and bacon, chicken/turkey, cheese, bread and rolls, crackers and ready-to-eat cereals. This intake equates to a child (24-47 months) consuming an average of 1,863 milligrams of sodium per day.
Deming analyzed dietary intake surveys for parents of 2,386 toddlers and preschoolers to lead an analysis on how snacking patterns among U.S. toddlers and preschoolers differ according to location. She found:
- Many children consume milk, crackers and fresh fruits at snack time, but a variety of sweet snacks become the more popular choice when snacks are consumed away from home.
- Snacks consumed away from home contributed about 50 more calories to the daily diet.
And so, it’s no longer enough for companies to just serve up food with the main goal being that it tastes good to kids. New and reformulated favorites have to take a healthier formulation plan into consideration to meet the changing attitudes about what’s suitable to feed kids to prevent obesity and nourish growing minds and bodies.
This means companies who find innovative ways to add healthier ingredients and improve a product’s nutritional profile while maintaining kid-friendly qualities will be able to capture part of that expanding market. But to do so still requires a balancing act to ensure kids willingly eat these healthier menu items. Luckily, ingredient manufacturers are working to develop solutions (discussed in Food Product Design’s Digital Issue “Healthy Snacks for Kids")—from natural colors that provide eye-catching hues to whole grains, fiber and lower-calorie sweetener systems that can make appealing (and healthy) kids’ snacks.