The Insidious Rise of 'Toddler' Foods

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Toddlers don't need junky snacks. They need real food.

Just last month, a group of medical experts across the United States released guidelines on what children under the age of 5 should be drinking, and the general consensus was less sugar. Parents should pass on the fruit juices and flavored milks, and opt instead for breast or plain milk, infant formula, or water.

When it comes to young babies, parents tend to be more disciplined, opting for plain, sugar-free formulas; but problems arise as kids grow up. According to the Washington Post, the 'toddler zone' is pandemonium. Kids at that age are getting picky, parents want to be able to feed their kids on the go, and the food industry is constantly fuelling demand for new products through innovation and catchy marketing. Hence, the rise in toddler foods that are far from healthy.

The Post cites Mintel research that found four times as many toddler products were launched in 2018 as in 2005, and most of these are "extremely high in sugar." In fact, a 2015 study found that "29 percent of toddlers' calories were coming from snacks, most of which were salty or sweetened processed foods, not fruits and vegetables." These are products such as 'fiber and protein' bars, yogurt puffs, fruit gummies, puffed cheese snacks, squeeze pouches, toddler milks, and more.

The perception that toddler-targeted snacks foods and drinks are healthier than adult ones is incorrect. Jennifer Harris, a researcher at the University of Connecticut who studies food marketing, assessed sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and calories in toddler snacks and found they're on par with adult versions – in other words, junk. She said, "You wouldn’t give your toddler Cheetos, but you would give them Gerber puffs, which are basically the same thing."

This is distressing, but not surprising. I've long been an advocate of young children eating exactly what their parents do, or at least simplified versions of it; otherwise, you run the risk of entrenching dietary habits that are much harder to change in the long run. Toddlers are perfectly capable of eating adult food – we should really be calling it human food – and to give them anything other than that is to do them a great disservice.

Don't waste your money on overpriced, over-packaged, over-sugared food products. Instead, give your toddler fresh vegetables and healthy dips, real yogurt, real fruit, pieces of real cheese, and nuts, many of which can be eaten on the go without a mess, so that's not an excuse. In fact, avoid the toddler food aisle altogether. I managed to raise three kids without ever entering it, nor did I spend obscene amounts of time making special homemade organic toddler snacks because goodness knows I didn't have time or patience for that. Feed them what's on your own plate, and you'll all be better off.