Is Your Baby a Junk Food Junkie?

Here's what a shocking new study reveals—and what you can do to protect your baby.
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When babies first start solids, most of them have a pretty stellar diet: Lots of fruits and veggie purees and whole grain baby cereals. Then something happens. Finger foods and table foods are introduced and things go south. Quickly. A recent study of children ages 0-2 commissioned by Beech-Nut revealed kids are eating way too much junk food—even before the age of 2! In fact, by 12 months of age, more than 40 percent of babies are eating cookies, brownies, and salty snacks.

So how can you prevent this from happening? Here are some of the most alarming findings from the study and some smart strategies to put in place:

Sad fact: By age 2, less than half of babies are eating ANY vegetables.

Smart strategy: Serve veggies at meals and snacks every day in different ways. Try mixing peas into pasta or blending spinach into a smoothie. If your baby rejects something, continue to offer it. Too many parents give up too quickly, especially when it comes to vegetables.

Sad fact: By age 1, the top source of fruit for babies is juice.

Smart strategy: Switch from juice to whole fruit. Even 100 percent juice doesn't have the same nutrients—and isn't nearly as filling—as whole fruit. If you do serve juice, limit it to no more than 4-6 ounces a day.

Sad fact: About 30 percent of babies are drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, including soda.

Smart strategy: After age 1, water and milk (and if you're still nursing, breast milk) should be the mainstays. Kids who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages are at higher risk for being overweight and obese.

Sad fact: Among babies who are eating vegetables, potatoes (in the form of French fries and potato chips) are the top veggie consumed.

Smart strategy: Whole potatoes (think baked, roasted, and mashed) are a good source of nutrients. But choose plenty of colorful veggies often too, since they're loaded with all kinds of protective plant compounds.

Sad fact: By age 1, babies are getting 1,500 milligrams of sodium every day.

Smart strategy: Serve fewer packaged and restaurant foods, since that's where the majority of sodium comes from in the American diet. If you want to cut back on sodium at home, try using seasonings like cinnamon and ginger instead of salt.

Sad fact: At age 15 months, babies are getting 6.5 teaspoons of added sugar every day (as much as a cup of soda contains).

Smart strategy: Think of all the places your baby is getting added sugar—not just desserts, but also foods like cereal, snack bars, and yogurt. Try to either sweeten foods naturally (like mixing fruit into plain yogurt and plain oatmeal instead of buying the pre-sweetened versions) or reducing the sugar by mixing sweetened cereal or yogurt into the plain versions.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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