Of all the milestones in the first year of life, introducing solid foods to your baby will be an experience you are unlikely to forget.
One day you will be met with an eager mouth, wide open and ready to explore different flavours and textures and the next day will be sealed lips, shut with bowls of food turned upside-down and cups tossed to the ground. Yet, with a cupful of overflowing love, a generous amount of patience and a steady supply of wholesome nutritious meals, you can have a profound impact on your child’s health.
The aim is to raise a healthy child, well rounded with a curious and adventurous palate. What to remember is no one has a greater influence on your child’s eating habits than you do.
Your responsibility as a primary caregiver is to provide wholesome nutritious meals as frequently as possible depending on your child’s nutritional needs. Equally, your child’s responsibility is to eat the food provided. Keep in mind that you have little control over whether your child eats the food offered and how much food your child eats.
Inevitably, there will be a day when your child will barely eat anything. On these days, do not give up and do not start to worry that your child’s nutritional needs are going unmet. Realistically, their nutritional requirements will not be met in one day let alone in one meal; instead they even out over weeks and months. Keep going and keep offering a wide variety of balanced meals.
With so many food choices and just as much information, what does a balanced diet look like in practice? Your goal for each meal is to create a balanced plate that includes: high calorie, iron-rich foods, fruits and vegetables.
High-calorie foods are especially important for brain growth and development in the first 24 months of life. Calorie dense foods ensure that every bite counts especially when there is minimal intake during the first days of introducing solid food as well as during toddler years.
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Iron is arguably the most important nutrient for children below two years. It helps with brain development and blood circulation among other things.
Iron from animal sources is absorbed best. Calcium is thought to inhibit iron absorption in certain instances, and we recommend serving some meals without dairy products throughout the day to maximise iron absorption. Serving vitamin C with iron sources, especially plant-based iron sources can have a positive effect on how much iron is absorbed.
Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables. This water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant protects against cell damage, helps the immune system to work properly and aids in wound healing. Vitamin C is particularly important in boosting iron absorption from vegetable sources. Focus on offering a wide variety of fruit and vegetables to ensure that your baby’s needs are being met.
Even though the baby may be ready for solid food, breastmilk and iron-fortified formula will still be a major part of the baby’s diet.
A baby who is just starting on solid foods may eat only a few spoons at each sitting and should continue breastfeeding between meals. Where possible, breastfeeding is encouraged for up to 24 months.
While waiting to introduce top food allergens like eggs, fish, wheat and nuts may seem like the safer route, there is growing evidence showing that introducing allergens as early as six months of age can reduce the risk or help prevent the development of food allergies. If there’s a family or medical history that puts your baby in the high-risk category - such as severe eczema, previously diagnosed food allergies, or asthma - consult with your healthcare provider to determine the best plan of action
Lastly, a clean kitchen ensures that the baby’s food is free of germs.
Before you start preparing baby’s food, wash your hands with soap and water, wash all produce thoroughly, use separate utensils for raw meat, poultry and seafood, promptly refrigerate or freeze baby’s food in appropriate quantities and clean all work surfaces and utensils with warm soapy water.
Go ahead and start your journey today.
Dr Mate-Rodrigues is a Consultant Paediatrician, M.P. Shah Hospital.