A healthy balanced diet is a diet which contains the right amounts of all the food groups needed to stay healthy and support growth.
The importance of your baby’s milk feed
Your baby is still young and is only beginning to take solids so his milk feed will still be the main source of nutrients at this stage. It is important you do not reduce the amount of milk you offer too quickly. As your baby progresses through weaning his milk feed will eventually begin to decline but this will only come about when he is well established on solids and taking a considerably large amount. Try to follow your baby’s appetite and pace. During the first two years of life milk will remain a crucial part of your baby’s weaning diet.
A baby’s nutritional needs will differ to those of adults
At this stage your baby will still be at a very early stage in their development but will be growing rapidly; as a result his/her nutritional requirements will differ from that of yours and their older siblings. While adults are recommended to follow a low-fat and high fibre diet the opposite is true for babies. It is best that you feed your baby foods which are relatively low in fibre and high in fat. While fibre is very good and shouldn’t be removed from your baby’s diet completely, too much is not good for babies it can leave them feeling very full and they will be less likely to take other foods for you, as a result may lose out on other essential nutrients e.g. calcium and iron.
The period from birth to two years of your baby’s life is one of very rapid growth; to provide the energy for this rapid growth it is important your baby has a diet relatively high in fat. Fat is very high in calories and will provide the energy that your baby needs at this stage in their development.
Also your baby’s portions will be very small in comparison to an adult. Your baby will be unable to cope with large amounts of food at once, so your baby will take smaller amounts of food more frequently.
Variety in your baby’s diet is essential
The more foods you offer during the first year the less likely are the chances of your baby becoming a fussy eater later in life
The more you vary the tastes and textures you offer your baby the more nutrients your baby will receive. No one food will provide all the nutrients that your baby needs as different food will provide different nutrients. A variety of foods does not only offer more nutrients, the more foods you offer during the first year the less likely are the chances of your baby becoming a fussy eater later in life. It is at this stage in their development that food preferences form. Once your baby is settled on solids and taking relatively large amounts of fruit and vegetable purees you can start to introduce meat, fish and poultry.
Following the food pyramid
It is important that your baby’s diet contains food from all the major food groups in the correct portions suitable for their age. By following the food pyramid you can ensure that your baby is getting the right amount of all 5 major food groups.
- Carbohydrates: Foods like potatoes; cereals pasta, rice and bread should be the main stable in the diet and be included in every meal. These foods are a great source of energy. Choose cereals that are low in salt and sugar.
- Fruit and Vegetables: These are very rich in essential nutrients including vitamin C and fibre. Green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach and broccoli are great as they provide high levels of iron and calcium. Fruit and vegetables can also make great finger foods, your baby will love chopped melon and soft carrot sticks for example. If you have difficulty getting your baby to eat vegetables try and put lots of hidden veg in casserole dishes or stews.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurts and cheese are great sources of calcium which is essential for bone and teeth development. Full-fat options are also recommended for the first two years of life.
- Protein: protein is needed for the growth and repair of our cells so it is an essential nutrient for babies who are growing all the time. Meat, fish, eggs and beans are all sources of protein. In addition to protein they are also great sources of Iron which is needed for brain development.
- The top shelf- the not so healthy foods. This includes biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks and cakes. These provide a lot of empty calories- which are calories that have no or very little nutritional value.
Key essential nutrients in your baby’s diet
LCP’s( Long- Chain Polyunsaturated fatty acids) these are fatty acids which go a long way in developing your baby’s brain, eyes and nervous system. Breast milk has high levels of naturally occurring LCP’s. Rich sources in the diet include salmon, eggs and red meat.
Iron is needed to carry oxygen around in the blood and it also supports brain development, which is crucial at this stage in your baby’s development. Iron is especially important for babies as the iron store which they would have received from their mother in the womb will have depleted by 6 months, for this reason it is very important that you include iron rich foods in your baby’s diet. Vitamin C will also aid the absorption of iron, so eating vitamin C rich foods (oranges, tomatoes) with iron rich foods (red meat, poultry, green leafy vegetables) will help enhance your iron levels.
Vitamin D3 is commonly known as the sunshine vitamin this is because it is manufactured in the skin from the sun. There are very few dietary sources of Vitamin D3 and in Ireland we do not get an adequate amount of sunshine to make the level of vitamin D3 needed, so supplementation is required. The Health Service Executive (HSE) recommends that all babies, from birth to 12 months, whether breastfed or formula fed, be given a daily supplement of 5 μg vitamin D3. This should be provided by a supplement containing vitamin D3 exclusively and not part of a multivitamin.
Read our article about making sure your baby gets enough Vitamin D.
Calcium is essential in the diet to build strong healthy bones and teeth which is so important during infancy when your baby is growing so quickly. Good sources of calcium are breast milk or infant formula. Green leafy vegetables, breads and beans are also good sources. Choose full fat dairy products for babies.
Beware of salt
Your baby will be unable to cope with large amounts of salt. So it is important that you are aware of the level of salt that is in the foods you feed your baby. Adult like processed foods e.g. chicken (nuggets, fish fingers) and sauces (ketchup, bolognaise, stock cubes) are not suitable for babies as they are particularly high in salt. When making up a meal for the family exclude your baby’s portion before you add in any salt or sauces.
If you are worried about your baby’s dietary intake and would like to discuss this further with our team of infant nutritionists please get in touch.