What Parents Should Know About the Updated USDA Guidelines

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) update their nutrition recommendations utilizing the latest scientific research, with the goal of supporting healthy diets and reducing the risk of chronic diseases in all Americans.

The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines include some important updates that we’ve highlighted below, including some key points and recommendations for infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers. 

According to the updated Dietary Guidelines, which calls for Americans to “Make every bite count,” the four main guidelines are:

  • Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. 
  • Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
  • Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits. 
  • Limit food and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. 

For the first time, this edition includes dietary guidance separated into chapters for every stage of life, from birth (including pregnancy and lactation) through older adulthood. The USDA and HHS encourage Americans to limit the following in their diets: 

  • Added sugar: Consume less than 10% of calories per day for ages 2 and older and avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers. 
  • Saturated fat: Consume less than 10% of calories per day starting at age 2. 
  • Sodium: Intake should be less than 2,300 mg per day (less if younger than 14 years old)
  • Alcoholic beverages: If consumed, limit to less than two drinks or less per day for men and one drink or less per day for women. 

Infants and Toddlers (Birth–2 years)

From birth, it’s important to make sure your children are getting proper nutrition for growth and development. According to the USDA guidelines, for the first six months of life, exclusively feed infants human milk, and then continue to feed human milk through age one. When human milk is unavailable, it’s recommended to feed your infants iron-fortified infant formula for the first year of life. The guidelines also recommended providing your infants with supplemental vitamin D starting soon after birth. 

After 6 months, infants can be introduced to a variety of nutrient-dense complementary foods, especially foods rich in iron and zinc. See chapter two in the Dietary Guidelines for more information.

Children (2–18 years)

For children and adolescents, research shows that the majority of children and adolescents are exceeding the recommended daily intakes of added sugar, saturated fat, and sodium (see Chapter three for statistics by age group). 

Parents and caregivers are encouraged to support their children’s nutritional needs through healthy dietary patterns (i.e., consistently healthy food choices). Some nutrition considerations to help children follow these guidelines include:

  • Reduce or eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages. Soda and sports drinks don’t contribute to meeting food group goals and often contain a higher number of calories than other beverages. Instead, opt for water, unsweetened fat-free or low-fat milk (including lactose-free options), and 100% juice within recommended amounts. 
  • Dairy and fortified soy alternatives are important. These provide protein and a variety of nutrients that are under consumed, such as potassium, calcium, and vitamin D, during these stages. 
  • Expose your children to a variety of nutrient-dense foods. As parents and guardians, you have a primary role in helping to create healthy dietary patterns as you purchase, prepare, and serve food and beverages. 

Click here to read the full Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025.