Babies need a different kind of diet
A balanced diet for a baby is very different from ours. Unlike our diets, which ideally should be low in fat and high in fibre, your baby needs a diet relatively high in fat 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.
Your baby’s nutritional needs change as they grow so at each stage of their development they need the right balance of nutrients and energy to support healthy growth. A baby's tummy is around ten times smaller than an adult's, so it's important that every small spoonful your baby eats is packed full of the right nutrients and goodness.
This is also a reason why babies need to eat small portions regularly throughout the day, rather than having a few larger meals.
Variety is everything
Variety is the spice of life! From breakfasts through to their main meals and desserts, it's important to give your baby a wide range of foods in their diet, especially in their first year when their food preferences are being formed. From around the age of two these preferences may become relatively fixed until they’re around eight years old, so make sure they’ve tried red meat, poultry, fish, various fruit and vegetables, dairy, cereals, rice, pasta and potatoes.
Different foods have different nutrients, so ensuring your baby eats a wide variety of food is essential for a balanced diet and their healthy growth and development. However, there’s one very important vitamin that you may find difficult to get enough of from food alone, and that’s vitamin D.
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, your little one’s body produces it when they’re out in the summer sun. Unfortunately, the UK weather makes it hard for them to make enough to support their normal bone development. And as only a few foods like liver, oily fish and eggs contain it, many children aren’t getting enough. To find out more about vitamin D, take a look at our baby club article, and visit Vitamin D Mission. Its aim is to eradicate vitamin D deficiency in all UK children under five.
Different food groups and their benefitsSo what kinds of foods are in the different food groups and how often should you give them to your baby? The pointers below should help you:
Starchy foods – bread products, cereals (including pasta and rice) and potatoes. These foods provide your baby with the energy they need to grow and develop. Offer your baby a portion with each meal and at some snack times.
Fruit and vegetables – fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and veg. Fruit and vegetables contain a whole range of vitamins and minerals which are important for your baby’s development. Ideally you should offer some at each meal and for snacks, with a variety of different colours.
Milk, cheese and yogurt – these foods are rich in protein, calcium and some vitamins and minerals. Milks fortified with vitamin D can help keep your baby’s levels topped up. They will need at least three servings of dairy a day, either to drink or in cooking.
Meat, fish and alternatives – meat, fish, eggs, nuts and pulses such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas and dhal. These are a valuable source of protein, iron and omega 3 fats, while oily fish like herring, mackerel and salmon provide vitamin D, as do liver and eggs. Offer these foods once or twice a day to meat-eaters or two to three times a day to vegetarians.
Foods high in fat and sugar – examples of foods high in fat and sugar are oils, butter, cakes and biscuits. Fats and sugar provide lots of energy, which is what your baby needs, but they often contain only small amounts of vitamins and minerals. So these may be included in your baby's diet, but make sure they are given as an extra, and do not use them to replace one of the other food groups.
Watch the salt
You should watch out for the amount of salt in food you give your baby, and avoid adding any yourself, because it may strain their little kidneys -which are still developing. Babies should actually have no more than 1g of salt in any one day, which is just 1/6th of an adults maximum daily allowance.
Milk is important to your baby
Milk remains crucial to your baby when weaning because it ensures that they’re getting the vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins that they need – especially in the early stages of weaning.