Breast milk and formula milks are good sources of nutrients but, after six months of age, some nutrients that babies are born with start to run low. This is when its important to start complementing milk with other food sources.
Choosing a diet with a good variety of foods will help ensure your baby gets everything they need to grow, flourish, develop and learn. As your baby gets more interested in foods their intake of milk will fall and their food intake will increase. Milk should remain your child’s main drink until they are one-year-old for formula milk or two-years-old for breast milk.
A balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate rich foods alongside fruit and vegetables give the optimal diet for your baby and will ensure they eat enough essential nutrients across the day.
A word on
- Sugar: avoid foods with maximum energy and minimum nutrients, such as sugar. This will increase risk of obesity and tooth decay without delivering any health benefits.
- Saturated fat: similar to sugar, high-fat foods such as crisps and chips should also be avoided as they don’t contain any nutrition.
- Ready-made adult meals: be careful of feeding your baby pre-prepared adult food or ready-meals. They often contain high levels of salt.
- Restrictive diets: avoid a restrictive or low-calorie diet as this can result in inadequate intake of nutrients and energy and can affect growth.
- Fibre: avoid overloading your baby on fibre. Although it is important, it can fill them up before they’ve taken in enough energy. Wholegrains are great and will help your baby get vitamins but avoid extra fibre such as bran.
- Appetite: babies will regulate their own appetite and energy intake so be conscious of this to avoid overfeeding.
Energy is vital to keep your baby growing. On average, babies triple their weight in the first year of life alone and they need some serious energy to fuel this. This is best met with carbohydrates and fat so that protein can be used for growth and repair. Breast milk supplies the entire energy requirements for babies under six months old and half of that needed for babies between 6-12 months old2. Good sources of energy are lactose, cereals, fruits and vegetables.
Protein is needed for growth and repair. Milk (breast or formula) is an excellent protein source in your baby’s early months and then great sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, yoghurt, pulses, beans, lentils and cereals. It’s good to be aware that animal-based protein contains all the essential amino acids humans need but plant-based proteins do not (although protein deficiency is rarely seen in the UK).
Fat provides the energy, vitamins and essential fatty acids required for normal brain development. Babies will get half their required fat from their milk (breast or formula) and the rest will need to come from full fat products. There should be no restriction on fat intake for the first two years of life. Good sources of fat include meats, dairy products and egg yolks.
Iron is essential for growth, development and multiple internal functions. Stores your baby was born with will start to run out at six months, so it’s vital they eat good sources of iron such as meat, legumes, wholegrain breads, cereals and dark leafy vegetables. Not all iron is equal though – iron found in meat, poultry and fish is more easily absorbed than plant-based forms of iron. Having adequate amounts of Vitamin C will also help iron absorption.
Zinc is another essential mineral that needs to come from the diet once weaning begins. It’s needed to support healing, taste perception and a healthy immune system. Good sources of zinc include meat, poultry and egg yolks.
Vitamins A can be found in meat, fats and orange/red vegetables and fruit such as carrots. It’s particularly useful for eye development.
Vitamin E protects Vitamin A and essential fatty acids. It also prevents the breakdown of tissues. Green leafy vegetables, wholegrains and egg yolks are all good sources.
Vitamins K is needed for blood clotting in babies as they are unable to use bacteria in their gut to make it for themselves like adults do. Diet sources include green leafy vegetables and pork.
Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, is needed for bone formation. We can get it from sunshine (although prolonged exposure without sun cream is not recommended) and dietary sources such as fish and egg yolks.
Vitamin C is needed to form collagen, help resist infection and enhance iron absorption. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of this important vitamin.
While this list in no ways covers every nutrient your baby needs, a balanced and varied diet will. Choosing a diet with a good variety of foods is the best way to ensure your baby gets everything they need to flourish.
This article was written with the help of our nutritionist, Jo Rayner.
1 USDA.gov, n.d. nutritional needs of infants. [Online]
[Accessed 02 04 2018].
2 WHO, 2017. Infant and young child feeding. [Online]
[Accessed 02 04 2018].