Healthy eating for babies is not the same as healthy eating for adults. Adults are encouraged to eat low fat, high fibre diets which results in a diet which is lower in calories and more filling.
Infants have high nutrient requirements but have the capacity to consume small amounts of food.
Therefore, energy and nutrient-dense foods are vital during the weaning period to ensure nutritional requirements are met. They need to eat little and often.
Macro = more of
Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Proteins & Fats
Micro = less of
Micronutrients: Vitamins and Minerals
High energy foods unsuitable for infants include: high-sugar, high-salt foods such as crisps chocolate & other confectionary products.
High fibre diets aren't suitable for infants due to their small stomach size and their energy requirements relative to their body mass. Too much fibre can interfere with the absorption of important nutrients. In saying that, it's still a good idea to introduce some fibre rich foods in infancy as they are often rich sources of B vitamins, they can help prevent constipation and it may help establish healthy food preferences later in life.
In order to try prevent constipation in babies, it's important to find to balance the type and amount of fibre in your babies diet. Soluble fibre is best in the right amounts. Insoluble fibre is not recommended for under 2's.
Sources of soluble fibre: oats, lentils, fruit, vegetables & beans
Sources of insoluble fibre: brown rice, brown pasta, high fibre cereals.
Protein is essential for growth & repair. Infants require more protein per kg body weight than adults due to the huge requirements for growth during this time. During the latter half of infancy, the protein in breastmilk alone will not be sufficient to meet optimal needs, therefore high protein foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, pulses & legumes should be introduced from 6 months on.
Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient and provides the most energy/gram.
It is recommended that fat should not fall below 25% of total energy intake and should be higher if an infant isn't feeding well, or is regularly sick.
Low fat diets are not suitable for infants unless otherwise directed by a health professional. Despite the importance of fats in the diet, it's important not to consume poor sources of fat such as dessert foods, crisps and confectionary.
Salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, kippers & herring - rich in omega 3 fatty acids. 2 servings/week.
Full fat milk, full fat natural yogurt & small amounts of pasteurised cheese.
Babies are born with stores of iron which they have accumulated from their mother during pregnancy. However, all babies will experience a reduction in iron stores between 4-6 months of age. Introducing iron early in the weaning diet is therefore extremely important for your babies growth and brain development.
There are two types of iron in food: haem iron and non-haem iron sources. Haem iron sources are more easily absorbed by the body but both should be included in the diet.
Eating foods rich in vitamin C at the same time as eating foods containing non-haem iron can improve iron absorption from these foods.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Red & green peppers
Sources of haem iron:
Sources of non-haem iron:
fully cooked eggs
leafy green veg
Salt should never be used to flavour your baby’s food whether it’s homemade baby food or jarred baby food. Too much salt from sources other than natural foods like vegetables and fruits and breast milk, may damage baby’s kidneys and possibly even cause brain damage.
See below for recommended daily intakes of salt for infants & children:
Up to 6 months old less than 1g salt / day (<0.4g sodium)
7 - 12 months 1g salt / day (0.4g sodium)
1 - 3 years 2g salt / day (0.8g sodium)
4 - 6 years 3g salt / day (1.2g sodium)
7 - 10 years 5g salt / day (2g sodium)
Children over 11 years 6g salt / day (2.4g sodium)
1g salt = good pinch salt = 400mg sodium
Reading Food Labels
It's very easy to be mislead by claims on food products such as 'Fat Free' or 'Reduced Sugar.' The Irish Heart Foundations food shopping card below will help you understand food labels a bit better. Nutrients are colour coded using a traffic light system: high levels are red, medium levels are amber and low levels are green. Babies under 1 should not be offered foods high in salt or sugar.
If there is a history of allergies in the family, seek medical advice before introducing allergens into your baby’s diet.
In the majority of cases it is safe to introduce allergens into your baby’s diet after 6 months of age, including products containing peanuts. Never give whole nuts to a baby or a child under 5 years of age, as they are a choking hazard.
You should look out for any adverse reactions when introducing a new allergen into your baby’s diet. If you observe any side affects you should immediately seek medical attention.
An allergic reaction can consist of one or more of the following:
• diarrhoea or vomiting
• a cough
• wheezing and shortness of breath
• itchy throat and tongue
• itchy skin or rash
• swollen lips and throat
• runny or blocked nose
• sore, red and itchy eyes
In a few cases, foods can cause a very severe reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life threatening and you should seek immediate medical attention.
Sources: World Health Organisation / Health Service Executive Ireland