As a parent, the nutritional needs of your baby are always going to be a priority – and, if you want to ensure that your child is consuming only the finest quality ingredients and a well-balanced diet to give them the best possible start in life, working out where exactly to start can take some research.
With the plethora of different baby products, recipes and parenting advice out there, it can often feel like an overwhelming task, but getting to know the basics about your child’s nutritional requirements will provide you with all of the background knowledge you need to start planning efficiently.
The food a child is fed early on in life can greatly influence his or her dietary choices later on, so it’s important to get things just right. Of course, you may find that your baby has very different ideas already to yours about what they’d like to eat – but with the right approach, you can ensure that they are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Each of your baby’s three daily meals should be well balanced with foods from each of the main food groups, and supplemented by up to two healthy snacks. The best way to ensure they are consuming the best quality foods, with no pesticides or chemical nasties, is to cook for them at home – so order in organic ingredients from your local greengrocer and have your chef get creative – or, if you have the extra time at home during lockdown, then why not get creative in the kitchen yourself?
Try to introduce new proteins and vegetables into your child’s diet periodically, to ensure they are consuming a broad range of vitamins and minerals and laying the foundations for an open mind about foods in later life.
Transitioning from milk to solids
Prior to reaching six months of age, babies won’t need to be fed solids at all, receiving all of their nutritional requirements from a milk-based diet. If you’re not breast-feeding, or are doing so but only some of the time, then infant formula will fill in the gaps. The best baby formulas will provide everything your baby needs to remain healthy and continue to grow and develop – but be aware that cow’s milk is not recommended until your baby is aged one or above.
After your child hits six months, they can begin the gradual transition towards a solid-based diet, and it’s now that you should introduce a variety of foods from all five food groups. These include protein-rich foods, such as pulses, eggs, fish or meat, and carbohydrates, like potatoes and rice – plus fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy, and small amounts of fats and oils.
Protein is an essential part of any baby’s diet for brain development, growth and the maintenance of healthy bones. Plant proteins are incomplete, so in order to get all nine of the 20 essential acids into your baby’s diet, you’ll need to combine a few different choices – but animal proteins such as meat, eggs and fish will provide them all in one hit. Try to integrate fish into your baby’s meal plan twice weekly, and include oily varieties such as salmon or mackerel.
For growing children, it’s important to include a source of starchy carbohydrates in every meal, but keep portions small so that they don’t fill up on these alone and miss out on the chance to consume some of the more nutrient dense foods on their plate. Too much fibre in the diet can also compromise the absorption of important minerals such as iron and calcium, so stick to modest amounts of bread, potatoes and pasta and fill the remainder with vegetables and pulses.
Fruit and vegetables
The recommended daily allowance of fruit and vegetables for children is five portions or more, and this can be easily achieved by having your chef whip up some homemade gourmet purees at home. As a rough guide to portion size, one should fit inside the palm of your child’s hand.
As you’re transitioning onto solids, start introducing cut up carrots, apple slices and other pieces of fruit and vegetables and allowing you baby to try them out in small measures.
Even post-weaning, milk and dairy should remain a part of your baby’s diet, although at this stage, they will be able to transition onto cow’s milk. Dairy foods are an important source of iodine, calcium and vitamins A, D and B12. For children under two years old, whole milk is recommended due to its importance for growth. Try to include cheese and yoghurt in your baby’s diet on a regular basis, too – though steer clear of sweetened yoghurts, which often contain too much refined sugar.
A small amount of healthy fats should be included in your child’s diet to support healthy brain development. These can be found in avocados, olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds. But avoid sources such as cakes, biscuits and sweetened desserts, which are high in added sugars and often, saturated fats.
By providing your child with a healthy, balanced diet based around the very finest ingredients money can buy, you’re guaranteed to give them the best possible start in life, and including these five key food groups will set you on the road to success.