Make Every Bite Count: Older Infants

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The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines provides recommendations for infants and toddlers, an age group not included since the 1985 edition. Little ones have big nutrient needs, so it’s important to Make Every Bite Count. Today, we continue The Make Every Bite Count series with a closer look at recommendations for older infants -- that's babies between the ages of 6 and 11 months.

At about 6 months, babies start to eat solid foods in addition to the breastmilk or infant formula they are drinking. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans  advise caregivers to encourage older infants to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods that fit within a family’s preferences, cultural traditions, and budget. This will put the babies on track to follow the healthy dietary pattern for toddlers (12–23 months). 

As solids are introduced, it’s important to note that babies often need to try a new food 8-10 times before they will accept it. Caregivers should continue to offer new foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Nutrients of concern for older breastfed infants:

  • Iron: By 6 months, babies who are primarily breastfed need food sources of iron (meats, seafood, and iron-fortified infant cereal). More than 75% of breastfed babies age 6–11 months have inadequate iron intake. 
  • Zinc: By 6 months, babies who are primarily breastfed need food sources of zinc (meats, beans, and zinc-fortified infant cereals). About half of breastfed babies age 6–11 months have inadequate zinc intake. 
  • Protein from complementary foods is often under-consumed by primarily breastfed babies.

Nutrients of concern for all older infants: Vitamin D, choline, and potassium from complementary foods are under-consumed by older infants.

Food groups for older infants:

  • Protein foods: Think meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, and soy products.
  • Vegetables and fruits: Be sure to offer options rich in potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Remember, beans, peas, and lentils are considered protein foods and vegetables. They're also good sources of dietary fiber.
  • Dairy: Try yogurt and cheese, including soy-based yogurt. And remember to eschew offering cow’s milk or soy milk as a beverage before 12 months.
  • Grains: An excellent option is infant cereals fortified with iron (oat, barley, multigrain, and rice).

Foods for older infants to avoid:

  • Foods with added sugars 
  • Foods with low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners
  • Higher-sodium foods (salty snacks, commercial toddler foods, processed meats)
  • Honey or foods made with honey
  • Unpasteurized juice, milk, yogurt, or cheese

Beverages for older infants: Water is the only recommended beverage for infants. Babies who have started complementary solid foods can have up to 4–8 ounces per day of plain, fluoridated drinking water. 

Infants under age 1 should generally NOT drink:

  • Cow’s milk or fortified soy milk
  • Plant-based milk alternatives (soy, oat, rice, coconut, almond milks)
  • Toddler milks/toddler drinks
  • 100% fruit juice
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, juice drinks, sports drinks, flavored water)
  • Caffeinated drinks

By Hollis Bass, MEd, RD, LD

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov

And here are the previous installments of the Make Every Bite Count series, in case you'd like a refresher:

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