A yogurt-based snack for children contains a teaspoon of sugar per serving, and four servings per pouch. Picture: Bill O'Leary/Washington Post

Washington - Leading health organisations recently released their first consensus recommendations about what young children should be drinking: only breast milk or, if necessary, infant formula until a baby is six months old, with water introduced around then, and plain cow's milk at around their first birthday.

That's it. No juice, no flavoured or plant-based milks, no caffeinated beverages or sodas.

The good news is parents of infants seem to be on the right track - breastfeeding is on the rise. But once children get into the toddler zone, it's pandemonium.

There's been a boom in unhealthy foods and beverages for children six months to three years old, packaged for convenience and often promising to make children stronger and smarter.

Dietary supplements said to boost the immune system. Squeezy pouches boasting 3 grams of protein and 3 grams of fibre. Oven-baked stone-ground wheat "wafflez," superfood puffs and a baffling array of toddler milks purported to aid brain and eye development.

Billy Roberts, senior analyst of food and drink at market research firm Mintel, says that there were four times more product launches in the baby and toddler food aisle in 2018 than in 2005, with a huge surge in new toddler foods and drinks, most of which are extremely high in sugar.

What's driving this surge? Experts point to several factors. Parents are demanding convenient, on-the-go packaging. Industry's lust for market share has driven advertising aimed at parents of toddlers. 

And there's been little nutritional guidance for new parents, who glean what they can from parenting chat rooms, family lore and pediatricians, many of whom had only a single class on nutrition during medical school.

The Washington Post