How to Meet the Dietary Needs of Babies - Health, Palate, and Lifestyle
More and more studies are proving that food has a large impact on our overall health and may even determine which diseases and ailments we will get later in life. The more we are aware of the importance of our food choices the earlier we can teach and protect our children. Of course there is always a balance to strike between what's good for our body and what's good for our taste buds and lifestyle. Here is a description of the most important nutrients for your child's development and which foods meet their needs.
Babies are born with their own source of iron, but this will be depleted after six months. Iron is absorbed best if it is from meat, however the vegetarian baby can increase iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C (citrus fruits, berries, spinach, tomatoes) with meals. Giving milk separately from meals also promotes absorption. Vegetarian iron rich foods include pureed apricots, molasses, fortified cereals, refined lentils, beans and green vegetables.
Breast milk or formula provides all your baby's calcium needs initially. Calcium helps teeth and bones and promotes overall strength. Good sources later include: cow's milk, fortified soy milk and orange juice, cheeses, molasses, dark green vegetables, beans, lentils and tofu.
Babies require more protein than adults because of their rapid growth. A one year old child needs about 15 grams or two cups of protein per day, such as milk, cheese, beans, tofu, fish, poultry and lean meats. Combination foods such as grains (bread, pasta, rice) with beans, lentils, avocados, cheeses or tofu will provide the balance needed for vegetarian babies.
Vitamin B12 is usually found in animal products, such as meat and chicken. Other non-meat sources include dairy products and eggs, as well as fortified foods such as soy milk and cereals.
Vitamin D is made from the action of the sunlight on the skin. Most children in warm climates receive adequate Vitamin D (20-30 minutes a day, 2 to 3 times per week). Dietary sources of vitamin D include dairy products, eggs and fortified foods. Breast milk or formula will provide vitamin D in the beginning stages. Some pediatricians recommend vitamin D supplements.
Most of your baby's fiber needs will be met with fruits and vegetables and cereal. Be careful as a diet too high in fiber and whole grains can fill up a child before their nutritional needs have been met and interfere with absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium. Too much fiber may also cause diarrhea or an upset stomach to your baby.
Zinc is important for healthy immune systems and growth. Offer your child plenty of food rich in zinc such as wheat germ, lean meats, milk, lentils, beans, peas, corn and soybeans. Zinc, like iron may be a problem for vegetarian babies because of poor absorption.
Infants receive 40 - 50% of their calories from fat, through breast milk or formula. After the first 12 months, your baby will receive fat from whole cow's milk. After age two, the Pediatric Panel of the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends reducing fat calories to 30% or less of total diet. This is the time to switch from whole milk and dairy products to low fat versions. Healthy fat sources include walnuts, canola oil, avocado, milk, cheese and yogurt.
These are important early on as they prevent damage to developing DNA. The average American family eats only 50% of what is recommended. Vegetables and fruits are the best source of antioxidants including: sweet potatoes, carrots, kiwi, broccoli, avocados, and blueberries.
Babies get water from formula and breast milk early on. However once solids are introduced they may need more liquids to aid swallowing. Water is needed for hydration as children become more active.
The nutrients listed above are good for all ages. While they contribute to your child's development they also keep adults healthy and free from diseases. You are the expert when it comes to your family and child. If you have a concern, trust your instinct and find someone to help you with health and nutrition questions and problems - pediatricians, nutritionists, dieticians, and lactation consultants are the perfect resources. Typically steady growth is best proof that your child is getting the right amount of food.
Lisa Barnes is the founder of Petit Appetit, a culinary service devoted to the palates and health of infants and toddlers. She teaches in-home private cooking classes to parents, nannies, mothers' groups, and parenting resources throughout Northern California and is the author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook (published by Penguin Books, March 2005).
Her mission is for children to eat more healthfully, and parents to feel empowered to provide tasty and healthy food for their family. Good food should be about nutrition and taste, and bringing the family together.