Updated Guidance for Infant & Toddler Foods

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We all know that a child’s physical and mental development depends on good nutrition. It’s critical that our littlest eaters get the nutrients they need to thrive. And to do so, they need both the right amounts and types of foods and beverages. But feeding infants and toddlers can be confusing (and sometimes frustrating)—even for the most informed and experienced parents! Thankfully, Guiding Stars makes shopping simple by identifying options with good, better, and best nutrition.

Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm

You’ve likely heard the statement, “Children are not just little adults!” While that’s true in many ways, in particular children have unique nutritional needs. And the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) pays close attention to these needs when choosing star-rated products for children. 

As a little background, Guiding Stars uses five algorithms to evaluate the wide range of foods and beverages in stores. The algorithms help ensure that we rate products in the most fair and appropriate manner. Generally, we group products into categories with similar items, or items with significant nutritional similarities. Nutrient requirements for young children are unique, however, and labeling standards are also different. Therefore, the SAP realized it needed a separate algorithm for foods specifically aimed at infants and toddlers.

Read more about our algorithms.

Why we made changes 

Guiding Stars initially created the Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) nutrition recommendations for children under age two. However, for the first time, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) included recommendations for infants and children under age two. These Guiding Stars updates now align the Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm with the current DGA.

Dietary Guidelines recommendations 

The DGA provides a lot of detailed information to help adults make wise choices about food for children. Here are some of the basic recommendations for this age group

  • Breast milk and/or iron-fortified formula until six months of age
  • A variety of nutrient-dense foods beginning around six months of age
    • Foods from all food groups
    • Iron-rich foods
    • Zinc-rich foods
  • Avoid added sugars and foods containing no-calorie sweeteners
  • Avoid foods high in sodium (opt instead for fresh, low-sodium, or no-added-sodium canned and frozen foods) 
  • Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and caffeinated beverages

What makes the Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm unique? 

As the DGA notes, the diets of very young children can set them on track for a healthy life. With this in mind, Guiding Stars aims to make nutritious choices easier—for both parents and babies. The SAP also strives to make the Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm as accurate as possible. Its overall success lies in how effectively it can help parents make healthy food and beverage decisions for their children.

Guiding Stars algorithms use a 100-calorie standardization for evaluating products. The base diet for the Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm is set at 1,000 calories, since that’s the AAP recommendation. In comparison, the other algorithms use 2,000 kcals to be consistent with Nutrition Facts food labeling regulations.

Not interested in all the science behind the algorithms? That’s ok. All you really need to know is that they help you make nutritious choices. When you choose foods and beverages with 1, 2, or 3 Guiding Stars, you’re choosing more nutritious options. For infants and toddlers specifically, star-rated products have:

  • More vitamins and minerals
  • No added sugar
  • Less added sodium
  • Fewer artificial colors
  • Fewer sugar alcohols 

What changes were made?

The Infant & Toddler Foods algorithm updates led to the adjustment of qualifications or criteria for some nutrients. Here’s a summary of the changes made to align with DGA guidance for children under age two:

  • Products containing any added sugar are disqualified from earning stars
  • Added sodium cutpoints were adjusted
  • New fiber credit was created
  • Vitamins and minerals credit is now based on shortfall nutrients

The vast majority of infant and toddler foods listed in the Guiding Stars database earn stars. However, the updates did result in some products losing stars. If you have questions about the star ratings for particular foods, use the Food Finder tool here.