Helpful Stuff

Good Fats for an Infant’s and Toddler’s Healthy Growth and Development

5 minutes read

23 C5050 1 V1
Kate Geagan

Kate Geagan, M.S., R.D.N.

Dietitian and sustainable nutrition pioneer

What to Know About Healthy Fats for Your Infant and Toddler

Dietary fats are an important part of your baby’s diet, as they provide essential fatty acids little bodies need to grow up healthy and strong.

This article will break down:

  • Why fat is important
  • How much your little one needs

  • The different types of fats and where to find them

Why is Fat Important for Infants and Toddlers?

Fats play a number of important roles for your baby: from helping deliver the energy needed for all of the rapid growth and development during this time (gram for gram fat provides more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrate), to cushioning organs, regulating body temperature, to helping your little one absorb vitamins A, D, E and K. For baby’s growing brain, cognitive, eye and neural development in particular, essential fatty acids provide crucial building blocks during this time. Additionally, fats help control growth, immune function, reproduction and produce hormones.

From a feeding perspective, fats keep tiny tummies fuller longer, as they take longer to digest than protein or carbohydrate. Fat also is highly palatable, which helps food taste delicious!

From a feeding perspective, fats keep tiny tummies fuller longer, as they take longer to digest than protein or carbohydrate. Fat also is highly palatable, which helps food taste delicious!

How Much Fat Do Little Ones Need?

According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children ages 1-3 years old should have 30-40% of their total calories come from fats, while children ages 4-18 should consume around 25-35% of their calories from fat.There is no set recommendation for children under age 1, but fats should not be limited in this group as it plays such an important role in brain development.

Because there are different types of fats and they each do different things in the body, focus on offering a variety of healthy fats once your little one begins incorporating solid foods. Make sure to introduce fats in appropriate formats for your baby’s stage of development (for instance, while nuts or seeds are rich in “good” fats, whole nuts and seeds are a choking hazard, so when they are ready, offer in a smooth, ground format such as swirled into hot cereal or spread on toast instead).

Healthy fats

Monounsaturated Fats

Why they are healthy?

Monounsaturated fats support a healthy cardiovascular system and help reduce inflammation and the risk of heart attack and stroke. They’re also rich in the antioxidant vitamin E.

Found in...

Avocados, certain nuts and seeds (such as almonds, pecan, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds), and some vegetable oils including olive, peanut, canola, safflower and sesame oil.

How much?

While there are no established DRIs for monounsaturated fats, these can be offered with confidence as a healthy part of your child’s total fat intake, in age appropriate formats.

Polyunsaturated Fats - Omega-3 Fats

Why they are healthy

Omega-3 fats (DHA, EPA and ALA) contain essential fatty acids that the body needs but cannot produce itself. These fats play a critical role in your baby’s brain, cognitive and eye development, starting in the womb. They also support cardiovascular health and are anti-inflammatory.

Found in

DHA and EPA fats are naturally found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardine or chunk light tuna, as well as mussels and certain algae. ALA, an essential fatty acid, is found in plant foods such as walnuts, chia, flax and hemp seeds, as well as soybean and canola oils. Certain foods may be fortified with DHA, EPA and/or ALA omega-3 fats, such as eggs, milk or cereals.

How much?

The Institute of Medicine recommends that toddlers age 1-3 consume 700 milligrams of omega-3 fats from DHA, EPA and ALA daily. Below age 1, If you are nursing, enjoy at least 2 servings of omega-3 rich seafood each week or other rich plant sources of ALA ( your baby will reap the benefits via breastmilk), or talk with your healthcare provider about a supplement. If you are bottle feeding, choose an organic formula fortified with DHA.

Polyunsaturated Fats - Omega 6 Fats

Why they are healthy

Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce “bad” cholesterol levels and help lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. They also provide the antioxidant vitamin E. Omega-6 fats provide essential fats that the body needs but can’t produce itself (such as linoleic acid) that are important to get through diet.

Found in

Certain nuts and seeds (including walnuts, peanuts, hemp and sunflower seeds) and sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils.

How much?

The DRI for children ages 1-3 is 7 grams of linoleic acid per day.

Saturated Fat

Why they are healthy until age 2 but recommended in moderation after

Until age 2, saturated fat and cholesterol are essential nutrients to support your little one’s healthy growth and development and should not be restricted during that time. After age 2, an eating pattern that’s too high in saturated fats is associated with raising levels of “bad” cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease.

Found in

Animal products such as beef, butter, bacon and ice cream, as well as tropical fats like coconut, palm and palm kernel oil.

How Much?

Until age 2 offer full dairy products (such as yogurt, cheese or cow’s milk). The USDA recommendations for children ages 2 and older suggest no more than 10% of total calories are recommended to come from saturated fat. That translates into about 10 grams of saturated fat in a 1,000 calorie toddler diet.

Emphasizing a variety healthy fats when cooking or preparing meals or snacks for your little on can help keep you on track without needing to be overly worried about “getting the amount perfectly”. For instance, spread avocado onto a sandwich for creaminess instead of cream cheese or butter or serve fish instead of beef or pork for dinner. Talk with your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.

This is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always discuss any health and feeding concerns directly with your pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read above.

Good fats for your toddler

Provide essential fatty acids little bodies need to grow up healthy and strong with our yummy pouches and snacks.