Last time I was talking about how to prepare your baby for a good balanced diet and a good relationship with food. But I didn’t really talk about what foods a baby needs to eat to achieve this balance and to get all the nutrients they need for optimal growth and development.
The important thing to remember is that no single food can give a child all the necessary nutrients after 6 months of age (obviously before this breastmilk, or formula, can), so from 6 months we must eat a combination of foods from 5 different food groups. These are:
Cereals and potato – e.g. breakfast cereals, bread, chappati, pitta, rice, couscous, pasta, potatoes. These should be included in each meal. Aim for 3-4 servings a day and offer as much variety as possible over the course of a week.
Fruits and vegetables – includes fresh, frozen, tinned and dried. Again offer them at each meal and as snacks too. Aim for 5 small portions each day, with lots of different types of fruits and vegetables being introduced. There are plenty to choose from. Remember, fruit juices can only count as one of their ‘5 a day’.
Milk and dairy foods – e.g. milk, cheese, yogurt, fromage frais. Aim for 3 servings a day. Obviously, before your baby is fully weaned onto a mixed diet comprising 3 meals a day they will probably be taking more than this. Remember too that all milk and dairy products should be full-fat until your baby is at least 2 years old.
Meat, fish and alternatives – e.g. meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses. Aim for 1-2 servings a day if your child eats meat and fish, but if they are vegetarian they should have 2-3 servings a day. Whole nuts should not be given before the age of 5 years, and if there is a family history of allergies then you should check with your health visitor or doctor before introducing any nut products into your baby’s diet.
Foods high in fat and sugar – active toddlers and children need some of these foods to help provide energy and some important fats and vitamins, but the quantities eaten should be small to avoid excess weight gain. And of course too much sugar can increase the risk of dental caries, especially if eaten in large amounts and at certain times.
Provided your baby eats a good mix of foods from these 5 food groups they should meet all their nutritional needs and this will pave the way for a good balanced diet throughout childhood and beyond. Don’t worry too much about serving sizes, these will grow as your baby grows, but if you are concerned at any time you should speak to your health visitor or ask to speak to a paediatric dietitian who will be able to fully assess your baby’s diet.