Understanding nutrition labels
Nutrition Facts panels can help you determine how foods fit into your toddler’s healthy meal plan. However, most products have Nutrition Facts panels that are based on serving sizes and daily recommended nutrient amounts for adults and children 4 years or older—not toddlers.
Your toddler’s tummy is tiny and fills up easily, so a serving for a typical adult is definitely not the right serving size for your toddler. Your toddler also has different nutrient needs for growth and development and lower calorie needs than adults and older children. Although many daily amounts recommended for adults are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, toddlers need only about 1,000 calories a day.
So how do you use the information in the Nutrition Facts panel for adults and older children to help with your toddler’s meal plan?
- Review the serving size. Start by offering a fourth of the adult serving. You can offer more if your toddler is still hungry, but start small and watch for cues that she’s full.
- Adjust the nutrition. The calories, fat, sodium, and other nutrients in the top portion of the Facts panel should be adjusted to reflect your toddler’s smaller serving. For example, if you offer a fourth of the serving stated on the label, divide each nutrient value by 4. If you offer half the serving, divide each value by 2.
- Be wary of the percent Daily Values (top part of the Nutrition Facts panel). These percentages are based on recommended daily levels for adults and older children—not toddler levels.
- Seek foods with 6% or more of the daily value for one or more vitamins and minerals shown in the bottom part of the Nutrition Facts panel.
- Seek foods with nutrients that are hard to get in toddler diets. Nutrients such as fiber (look for one gram or more), potassium (400 milligrams or more), Omega 3 fatty acids (140 milligrams or more) and vitamin E (4% Daily Value or more).
- Watch for high sodium. Limit foods with more than 225 milligrams of sodium per toddler serving for single foods or more than 480 milligrams of sodium for meals per toddler serving.
- Fat can be good. Don't be too concerned about the amount of total fat in the Nutrition panel unless your toddler is overweight or has other health problems. Your toddler needs more fat than adults and older children for healthy growth and development.
- Look for foods that have more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats than saturated fats. Except for whole milk, limit foods with saturated fat amounts of two grams or more per adult serving.
- Choose foods designed just for toddlers. The Nutrition Facts panels on these products are required to have toddler serving sizes and percent daily values based on daily recommended nutrient amounts for toddlers.