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Semi-skimmed after one?

UK government adopts changes to recommendations on food and drink for 1-5 year olds, including milk for toddlers.

The UK government has made some changes to its nutrition recommendations for babies and young children, aged 1-5 years (as of mid April 2024), following the independent report that came out last July. I wrote a blog post about it at the time.

The biggest change is that toddlers over one can be given semi-skimmed cow's milk (pasteurised). They can still be given pasteurised full-fat cow's milk, as well as breastmilk, sheep's milk, and goat's milk. Skimmed milk and 1% milk should not be given as a main milk drink, but can be used in cooking.

Parents are recommended to move off formula milks after their baby is one year old, onto animal milks (or keep breastfeeding). The guidelines specifically state that formula milks, including toddler milks and growing up milks, are not needed after one. They provide no additional nutritional benefits, and contain high levels of sugar. The report last summer, that these changes are based on, found that a third of toddlers aged 12-18 months were having some kind of formula milk, and this was giving them half of their sugar intake.

Please note, the changes only relate to over one year olds, the main recommendations for introducing your baby to solid food (weaning) haven't changed: wait till around six months; look for the three signs of readiness; offer a wide variety of tastes and textures; watch out for hidden sugar, salt, choking hazards, pouches (too much sugar, not enough texture, questionable nutritional content); follow your baby's lead to when they are full, and the speed at which to increase amounts and meals; milk feeds are still important and give your baby most of their nutrition, especially in the first few months.

What are the other changes to the recommendations:

Most of the other changes are tweaks to wording, or emphasis. These are the most interesting to me:

  • "The World Health Organization recommends that all babies are breastfed for up to 2 years or longer." Before the NHS said up to 1 year or more. As I said in my previous blog post, whilst I am very pleased to see this change, I would like more resources put in to the early days, as at the moment most women who start breastfeeding do not breastfeed for as long as they intended or wanted to, through no lack of promotion, but a great deal in lack of support. The updated NHS website also now includes this: "Breastfeeding up to 12 months is associated with a lower risk of tooth decay." Whilst this is great to know, I am not sure this will be a driving factor in whether people continue to breastfeed their baby.

  • "Commercially manufactured foods and drinks marketed for infants and young children are not needed to meet nutritional requirements." This is a funny way to say that home cooked foods are likely to be more nutritious, and that we should encourage and support families to make home prepared foods. The report found that baby food, drinks, pouches tended to have high levels of sugar, low variety of texture, and not the levels of nutrition that parents would expect.

  • "Children aged 1 to 5 years should be presented with unfamiliar foods/vegetables on multiple occasions (as many as 8 to 10 times or more for each food/vegetable) to help develop and support their regular consumption." This is good to know, and this is based on fairly recent research (see the report linked in my blogpost).

  • Regarding peanuts, the recommendations continue to recommend that peanuts, and hen's eggs, are introduced to babies between 6 and 12 months, adding that "these foods should continue to be consumed as part of the child’s usual diet in order to minimise the risk of allergy to peanut or hen’s egg developing after initial exposure."

  • Many of the changes relate to reducing sugar. Toddlers are consuming lots of sugar through their food, from drinks to snacks to pouches.

    • Children aged 1 to 5 years should not be given sugar-sweetened beverages.

    • Squashes, flavoured milk, "fruit" or "juice" drinks and fizzy drinks are not suitable for young babies. They contain sugar and can cause tooth decay, even when diluted.

    • Fizzy drinks are acidic and can damage tooth enamel so they should not be given to babies and young children.

    • Diet or reduced-sugar drinks are not recommended for babies and young children. Even low-calorie drinks and no-added-sugar drinks can encourage children to develop a sweet tooth.

    • Dairy products (such as yoghurts and fromage frais) given to children aged 1 to 5 years should ideally be unsweetened.

There is an emphasis on offering a wide variety of foods, flavours and textures, which fits with the approach we take. I particularly like this phrase:

"A flexible approach is recommended to the timing and extent of dietary diversification, taking into account the variability between young children in developmental attainment and the need to satisfy their individual nutritional requirements."

A very complicated way to say: Offer a wide variety of foods, and follow your child's lead!

You can read about the full changes/tweaks to the recommendations in the latest newsletter from First Steps Nutrition Trust. First Steps Nutrition Trust are an independent public health nutrition charity. I recommend you sign up for their newsletter, and follow them on social media.

Any questions or comments?

I am Chilled Mama Cathy, a doula, perinatal educator, parenting coach and trainer. I help parents relax and find their joy, based on science and intuition. I have trained over 150 people worldwide to deliver Starting Solids Workshops to families.

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