Infant nutrition – Tips and tricks

Infant nutrition – Tips and tricks

Philips Mother and Child

The first few years of life is a prime time for growth and changes throughout your little one’s body which means that proper nutrition during this time is critical. In fact, what infants eat strongly affect their long-term body weight, health, metabolic programming, immune system, and overall ageing. As they start walking and crawling, a lot of their energy is used up quickly and they need a good balance of nutrients and protein to keep them active and, making sure they have good balanced diet for both physical and mental development.

A varied diet that contains all of the five basic food groups is vital for this stage:

  • Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods give energy and should make up the main part of each meal with some white and wholegrain options included.
  • Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and fibre. Fruit at breakfast and vegetables and fruit at the other two main meals is important. Toddlers should also have 5 or more portions of fresh, frozen, tinned or dried fruit per day.
  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein such as nuts, lentils and tofu is a must as these foods also provide iron and zinc. Foods from this group should be included twice a day and oily fish should only be offered once or twice per week.
  • Milk, cheese and yogurt should also be included – 3 servings a day of these foods. Milk is still important, but a child over 1 year old needs less than a baby. 3 cups of milk of about 90 – 110ml is enough. However, fewer milk drinks should be given if your toddler is eating yoghurt and cheese. Bottles of milk should be discontinued from about 12 months of age. From a year, fresh, whole cow’s milk can be given instead of formula, unless you are continuing to breastfeed which is obviously still best.
  • Toddlers naturally like foods high in fat and/or sugar but they should be kept to a minimum. A dessert should be offered at the two main meals but it should not replace other nutritious foods from the other food groups.
  • Meals that are high in fat and salt should also be avoided as well as diet or slimming food. Low calorie foods are not suitable for toddlers as they need extra calories to fuel growth. Convenience foods and ready meals are best given sparingly, unless they are specially made for young children. Healthy, wholesome family food is the best option. It’s nutritious and economical.

However, as your little one goes through this development phase, they will take much longer to learn to like and eat new foods than they did as a baby. What’s more, sometime during their second-year, they are likely to become more selective about foods they will eat. They are more assertive at this stage and will often refuse to eat certain foods. Refusing to eat new foods is a normal developmental phase and usually starts soon after they have begun walking.

Don’t let meal time become a struggle. Keep meals simple and here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Encourage the family to eat together so that they will learn from copying their parents and older siblings – spacing meals appropriately.
  • Parents should comment positively about the foods offered to encourage toddlers and show them that the food is enjoyable.
  • A daily routine of three meals and two to three snacks should be designed around their sleeping pattern. Babies don’t eat well if they become over hungry or very tired. Stick to the routine.
  • Large bottles of milk should be avoided. Too much milk will fill toddlers up and leave them with little appetite for food.
  • Large quantities of fruit juice or other sweet drinks should be minimised, as these will decrease their appetite for food.
  • Use brightly coloured bowls and utensils – as this will encourage your toddler to eat.
  • Two courses should be offered at meals: one savoury course followed by a nutritious pudding or sweet course. This gives two opportunities for your child to take in the calories and nutrients needed, and offers a wider variety of foods. It also makes the meal more interesting for them.
  • Parents should praise their children when they eat well. Toddlers respond positively to praise.
  • Finger foods should be offered as often as possible. Toddlers enjoy having the control of feeding themselves with finger foods.
  • A calm, relaxed environment without distractions such as TV, games and toys encourages positive eating habits. Toddlers concentrate on one thing at a time and distractions make it more difficult for them to concentrate on eating.
  • A meal should be finished within about 20 to 30 minutes and parents have to accept that after this the toddler is probably not going to eat any more. Carrying the meal on for too long is unlikely to result in eating much more. It is better to wait for the next snack or meal and offer nutritious foods then.
  • Parents should accept that their toddler has eaten enough when they signal that they don’t want any more and are encouraged to take away any uneaten food without comment.

Your little one is advancing in age and during this time you can expect to see changes not only in their physical growth and motor development, but also intellectual, social, and emotional changes. Patience is required as you might have to try several times until you finally get your toddler to accept the changes in food. What is critical is creating a balanced meal which is essential for your growing little one. By understanding the importance of meal time and the nutritional value of the food groups, it will go a long way to ensuring development and of course, happy meal times.

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