Baby Weaning The importance of a balanced diet for babies

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The importance of a balanced diet for babies

A different balance for babies

A balanced diet for an adult is typically low in fat and high in fibre, but when it comes to a baby’s balanced diet, they need the opposite – food that is relatively high in fat and low in fibre. Although fibre is nutritionally beneficial, it’s very filling and too much of it can leave your baby too full to eat other foods that contain the energy and variety of nutrients they need at this stage. Your baby’s nutritional needs will also change as they grow, so they will need the right balance of nutrients and energy to match each stage of their development.

A baby’s stomach is around ten times smaller than an adult’s and is unable to cope with large amounts of food at once. So your baby will need to eat more often than you do. And since they won’t be eating much at each feed, it’s important that every spoonful is packed full of the right nutrients.

Why variety is so important

From breakfasts and main meals to desserts and snacks, it’s important to offer your baby a varied diet. Different foods provide different nutrients, so ensuring your baby eats a wide range of food is important to give them a balanced diet, as well as to promote healthy growth and development.

It’s especially important to introduce a variety of foods and flavours during the first year of weaning as this is when their food preferences are being formed. From the ages of 2 to 8 those preferences stay relatively fixed.

If your baby doesn’t seem to like a particular food, remember that they sometimes need to try a food up to 15 times before they enjoy it. Encouraging a healthy varied diet during these early stages will lead to healthy, varied tastes later in life.

Different food groups and their benefits

You are probably aware that there are several major food groups. Below is some information on what kinds of foods are in the different groups and how often you should give them to your baby.

Starchy foods – bread products, cereals, pasta, 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, but be sure to allow enough space for other nutrient rich foods such as vegetables and calcium-rich dairy products. Fruit and vegetables – whether fresh, frozen, tinned, or dried, fruit and vegetables contain a whole range of vitamins and minerals which are important for your baby’s development. Try to offer a ‘rainbow’ of differently coloured fruit and veg to provide a variety of nutrients. Serve some at each meal and as snacks. If serving tinned fruit, stick to those in fruit juice rather than syrup.

Dairy – foods such as cheese and yogurt are rich in protein, calcium and certain vitamins and minerals.

Meat, fish and alternatives – this group also includes eggs and alternatives such as tofu, and pulses, like lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and dhal. They are a valuable source of protein, although fish and eggs should not be served until your baby reaches 6 months. Once they’re over 6 months and provided you’ve chosen to include meat and fish in your baby’s diet, try to give them something from this group once or twice a day. If you’re feeding your baby a vegetarian diet you should increase this to two or three times a day.

Meat is a source of omega-6 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs). Oily fish like mackerel, sardines, tuna and salmon are also a rich source of omega-3 LCPs. It’s important to make sure your baby eats plenty of LCPs so try to include them in your baby’s weaning diet.

Foods high in fat and sugar – oils, butter, cakes, and biscuits all belong in this group. Fats and sugar can provide your baby with lots of energy, yet they only contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals. So although they’re an important part of your baby’s diet it’s better to let your baby enjoy them as an occasional treat from time to time.

Watching your baby’s salt intake

Too much salt in your baby’s diet can put a strain on their developing kidneys. So be aware of the salt content in the food you give your baby, including salt in cereals and ready-prepared sauces. You should also avoid adding any to home-cooked baby food . Babies should have no more than 1g of salt per day. That’s 1/6th of an adult’s maximum daily allowance of salt .

Milk – an important part of your baby’s diet

Even though your baby will be eating solids from around 6 months, it’s still a while before they will be eating enough to get the all the goodness they need solely from their food. Therefore, milk remains a crucial part of your baby’s weaning diet. It will help ensure that they get the vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins they need – especially in the early stages of weaning. Between 6 and 12 months it’s recommended that babies drink around 500-600ml of breastmilk or formula per day.

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