Food is the fuel that powers our babies and toddlers, making them grow physically and mentally, and develop them into healthy children and adults. It also provides them with lots of energy to be active and strong throughout their lives. When your baby turns 1 year old, solid food will replace much of the milk (formula milk or breast milk) in your baby’s diet. Because your baby has a tiny stomach, they will not be consuming a lot of food either. So it is very important that the food they eat is rich in nutrients. Food offers the following benefits to toddlers:
- Sustenance for growth
- Nutrients to replace worn out or damaged tissues
- Energy for physical activities
- Heat to keep the body warm
Like adults, babies and toddlers require 6 different types of nutrition to grow:
Infancy is the time when your baby is growing rapidly and needs essential nutrients to meet the demands of their bodies. Hence, proteins are essentially vital in this developmental stage. They play a role in building muscles, as well as hair, skin, nails and brain development. Good sources include fish, meat, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils and nuts (nuts should not be given to babies under 2 years old). Babies under one year have breast milk as their primary source of protein but as they grow older, their diet has more solids content and less milk. So it is necessary that they are given adequate amount of proteins daily.
Carbohydrates are fuel for infants and if these are not given in sufficient amount in their diet, then your infant’s growth may be stunted. They provide most of the energy for your child. Sources include starchy food such as pulses, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, cereals, bread, pasta, potatoes, vegetables and fruits. Carbohydrates can be in simple form or complex. Simple sugars dissolve into the blood quickly but do not last long, and the baby can become hungry very soon after the meal. Complex cereals, pureed vegetables and fruits are better as the baby stays full for longer.
There are many sources of fat including dairy products, milk, cheese, butter and cooking oil. There are also two types of fats, saturated fat that is found mostly in animal meat and dairy products, and unsaturated fat that is mainly found in seeds, oil, fish and nuts. Fat is important for growing babies and children. Essential fatty acids in the form of fish oils have many benefits. Tight restrictions or a fat free diet is not advised for babies as they burn so much energy in being active and growing in the first two years of their life.
Vitamins are required in small quantities as they are essential for remaining healthy. If your toddler becomes deficient in vitamins, then this can cause problems, e.g. lack of vitamin D can cause rickets in children, or lack of vitamin C can cause scurvy. Vitamin C is found in fruits and juices and vitamin D is found in eggs and some nuts and from UV light (sun). A balanced diet will provide sufficient vitamins for a growing child so that there is no need to use supplements. Check with your pediatrician if your child needs a vitamin D supplement. However, vitamins are generally not needed for a healthy baby before they turn one and can even be harmful if they are present in excess. Breast milk already contains essential vitamins that your infant requires. For premature babies, vitamin supplements can be added in breast milk before giving it to the baby.
These are required in small amounts and calcium and iron are two of the major ones.
Calcium is vital for strong, healthy growing bones and teeth. It can be found in most dairy products (milk, green vegetables, ice cream, yoghurt and cheese). If your child is intolerant of these foods, calcium is also found in leafy greens, tofu, spinach, broccoli, baked beans and sesame seeds.
Iron can be found in fish, red meat, liver, cereals, whole meal bread, green vegetables, eggs, spinach lentils and chickpeas. Iron is an essential component of the blood and is important for our metabolism.
Fluoride helps to produce strong teeth.
Water is crucial for maintaining proper hydration of the body. There is conflict in the medical community regarding recommending water to a baby less than 6 months old as they may not drink their bottles and this may reduce their nutritional intake. A baby’s formula can contain nearly 80% water so if your baby does not like drinking water, you don’t have to worry. As they get older, water should be introduced with their solids. It is a good habit to get your child into.
Dietary fiber is present in vegetables, whole meal bread, pulses such as beans, peas and lentils and breakfast cereals such as wheat and bran. Fiber is important in the diet because it increases bulk, and encourages the movement of food through the intestine, which helps to prevent constipation.
Fibers are an essential nutrient in your baby’s diet. It is recommended to introduce fibers in an early age to avoid the risk of obesity and reduce constipation.
For the first few months, a baby is entirely fed on milk and then is weaned on other foods. The baby will then get nourishment from a variety of foods containing different types and amounts of nutrition. A child needs a healthy and balanced diet to grow into an adult.
Children who eat a balanced diet are more likely to:
- Develop a strong healthy body
- Have energy to stay warm and active
- Grow to their full potential
- Maintain a suitable weight for their age
Children with an unbalanced diet are more likely to:
- Suffer from malnutrition
- Exhibit lack of energy
- Be susceptible to infections as their resistance to diseases is weak
Combining different foods is the best way to give your baby a healthy and nutritious diet. As toddlers grow at an accelerated rate, they need more calories to meet their energy requirements and this can be served by well-balanced and varied diet. Also, before making changes in your baby’s diet or planning their meals, be sure to consult a pediatrician for proper guidelines and instructions so your toddler receives the best care possible.