Babies need a different kind of diet
Your baby's nutritional needs change as they grow and their food needs to keep up with these changes, to support healthy growth. And because they have such tiny tummies, every small spoonful your baby eats needs to be packed full of energy and nutrients.
However, a balanced diet for a baby is very different to an adult's. Unlike an adult's diet, which ideally should be low in fat and high in fibre, your baby needs a diet relatively high in healthy, unsaturated fats and low in fibre. Although fibre is a good thing, it's very filling and too much of it may leave your baby too full to eat other foods that contain the energy and nutrients they need at this stage of their young life.
Variety is everything
For babies, like adults, variety is the spice of life! So as well as making sure their main mealtimes include a main course and a dessert, it's important to give them a wide range of different foods in their diet; red meat, poultry, fish, various fruit and vegetables, milk and milk products, breads, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes. The list is endless and delicious!
Different foods, even within the same food group, have different nutrients so ensuring your baby eats a wide variety of food is important to give them a balanced diet for their healthy growth and development. This is especially important in their first year when their food preferences are being formed. From the age of two these preferences may become relatively fixed until around eight years old.
Different food groups and their benefits
So what kinds of foods are in the different food groups? The pointers below should be of help:
Breads and Cereals – Include bread products, breakfast cereals, grains, potatoes, rice and pasta. This group of foods provides your baby with the energy they need to grow and develop, as well as vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Fruit and Vegetables – include fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables contain a whole range of important vitamins and minerals. Just remember to go easy on dried fruit because it tends to be high in sugar.
Milk and Milk products – include milk, cheese and yoghurt. All are rich in protein, calcium and have some vitamins and minerals. Your baby will need around three servings a day.
Lean meat, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs, Legumes, Nuts and Seeds – include foods such as hummus, baked beans, dhal and soy meat alternatives such as tofu. These provide a valuable source of protein, iron and fats.
Watch foods high in fat and sugar – examples of foods high in fat and sugar are oils, butter, cakes and biscuits. Foods high in fat and sugary foods provide lots of energy but few other nutrients. These should be offered in addition to, but not instead of foods from the other groups. Fat includes oils such as olive, vegetable, walnut and soya, as well as butter and margarine.
Watch out for
Salt – Check the amount of salt in food you give your baby, and avoid adding salt to their food. This is because too much salt may strain their little kidneys - which are immature and still developing.
Honey – Honey should also be avoided for baby's younger than one year.
Milk is important to your baby
Breast milk or infant formula remains crucial to your baby while you start to introduce solids because it continues to help ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need – especially in the early stages of introducing solids. The small amount of solid food that your baby will actually eat cannot provide everything they need. Milk is the main source of vitamins, minerals, fats and protein and will take up around half of what goes into your baby's tummy.
Little and often
A baby's tummy is around ten times smaller than an adult's, so it's important that the rest of their food is full of the right nutrients and goodness too.
This is also a reason why babies need to eat small portions regularly throughout the day, rather than having a few larger meals.