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What Does Your Baby Need to Eat

See also Food Pyramid

Protein

This is essential for the structure of your baby’s body and the chemical messengers of the brain and nervous system. Hair, nails, skin. bones and blood all need protein. There are 9 essential amino acids which your body must get directly from food in order to develop and function properly.

Some foods have complete proteins which contain all the essential amino acids your baby’s body needs, others have incomplete proteins which have some of the essential amino acids your baby needs. Incomplete proteins need to be combined with other incomplete proteins to ensure your baby is getting all she needs. Combining proteins is especially important if your baby is going to be having a vegetarian or vegan diet.

What foods contain protein?
Complete proteins
Eggs
Milk
Cheese yoghurt
Meat
Fish
Chicken
Soya

Incomplete proteins
Lentils
Pulses (chick peas, kidney beans)
Nuts and seeds
Oats, wheat and other whole grains
Rice
Peas and beans

Too much protein can, however, damage a young baby’s kidneys, so ensure that your child is getting enough of the other foods: carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Fats

A healthy body needs fat. Not only is it used as insulation and to store energy, but it is and essential part of the brain, nerves, hormones and every cell in the body. There are two main groups of fats: saturated and unsaturated

Generally, saturated fats are found in milk, cream, cheese, butter and red meat. They are fats that are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include sunflower oil, corn oil and olive oil and also most fat found in fish. Some vegetables such as avocados are high in unsaturated fat.

Babies and toddlers need more fat than an adult as a proportion of their total food intake and so may need a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. Breast milk is high in fat and so if your baby is still receiving lots of breast milk, a lot of her nutritional needs will be met through that.

Adults should restrict the levels of fats in their diet, particularly saturated fats and trans fats. Trans fats are fats that you may come across in processed food. They are produced when oils are hydrogenated for processed food and are often found in biscuits and cakes, fast food, pastry and some margarines. Packets of food will often label trans fats as hydrogenated vegetable oil.

In order that your baby does not acquire a taste just for processed food, it is advisable to try to meet her nutritional needs in other ways. All fish, but particularly oily fish like trout, salmon, mackerel and sardines, contain fats which are very important for your child’s development and everyone’s diet, and so introducing fish at an early age is a good idea, to encourage your baby to develop a taste for it.

Carbohydrates

The body uses carbohydrates for the production of energy and to keep warm.

They are found naturally in fruits and vegetables (particularly root vegetables like beetroot, parsnip and potatoes), in cereals, pasta and rice, bread and oats. As you can see from the food pyramid, carbohydrates are essential for a healthy body, and should make up more than half of your baby’s diet. Carbohydrates can be broken up into 2 groups, sugars and starch. A balanced diet has much more starch than sugar, but at the moment, most British children eat much more sugar than they should, but not enough starch. Sugars are found in processed foods, juices, cakes and sweets; starches are found in wholemeal bread and pasta, wholegrain breakfast cereals and oats, and pulses as well as root vegetables and bananas. Most starches release their energy slowly, over a longer period of time, and so it is much better if they are a large proportion of your baby’s carbohydrate intake, and diet overall. This will prevent the sudden rush of energy often found in toddlers after they have eaten a bar of chocolate, followed by an energy low, when they can become tired and irritable. A baby should not be following a low carbohydrate diet, which an adult might be if trying to lose weight.

Vitamins and minerals

There are a number of vitamins and minerals that your baby’s body needs in order to develop and function properly. These are mostly found in fruit and vegetables, dairy products and meat and fish. Each of these foods has some of the minerals and vitamins that your baby’s body needs, but not all, and so a healthy diet will have a balance of different fruits and vegetables, as well as some dairy products (or soya) and meat and fish (or pulses). The National Health Service  recommends five portions of fruit or veg a day: this is also illustrated on the food pyramid.