Good nutrition is essential during a child’s early years. Your child’s body is growing and developing all the time and the food they eat plays a huge role in their growth and development.
A wide variety of nutritious foods is fundamental to providing them with the vitamins and minerals needed to build a healthy body and mind.
Children need different types and quantities of foods at different stages of their life to ensure they receive the variety of nutrients needed for growth and good health.
Breast milk or formula milk should be the main drink for infants for the first year.
Breastfeeding enhances the emotional and physical well-being of both mother and baby. Breast milk is an ideal blend of nutrients and provides everything a baby needs for growth and development in the first six months. Breast milk is easy for a baby to digest, so a young baby may want more frequent, smaller feeds than formula fed babies. Breast milk contains antibodies which help to protect babies from infections such as coughs, colds and tummy upsets, as well as long-term health benefits.
Infants who do not receive breast milk should be given an infant formula. Whey dominant formula are generally recommended for infants who are not breastfed. Follow-on formula can be used for infants over 6 months of age, however, there is no need for a follow-on formula if children have a diet containing enough iron-rich foods.
When to start solids?
As the child grows, a more varied diet is needed to meet their needs and solid foods are introduced to complement the breast milk or formula. Milk remains the major part of the infant’s diet throughout the first year and continues to be important in the diet after that time.
Breastfeeding provides all a baby needs for the first six months. Solid foods are usually introduced from 4-6 months for formula fed babies and from 6 months for breast fed babies.
Introducing other foods before the recommended time is difficult for babies to digest and can result in childhood obesity and other allergies. Spoon-feeding should be introduced when a child reaches six months to encourage growth and development.
Help children learn to eat
Positive attitudes towards food and healthy eating habits can be developed from a young age. Infants are introduced to new tastes and textures during weaning and should be encouraged to eat and drink by themselves. This is a time of learning and the use of child-sized utensils, tables and chairs can make it easier for children to feed themselves, under supervision.
Food refusal and fussy eating
Many children go through phases of refusing to eat certain foods or foods that are served in different ways. Sometimes they will eat very little, which is common in children under the age of five. Don’t force children to eat and don’t rush them when they are eating a meal.
Offer a wide variety of foods
It is important to offer a wide selection of foods to ensure a well-balanced and nutritious diet. The Food Pyramid outlines a wide variety of foods that should be included in a child’s diet every day to ensure that they receive the variety of nutrients needed for growth and good health.
The Food Pyramid
The Food Pyramid provides a visual guide to a healthy diet and is made up of 5 different shelves
Shelf 1: bread, cereals and potato group. These foods provide energy for children to grow. 4-6 or more servings per day.
Shelf 2: fruit and vegetable group. These foods provide vitamins and minerals for good health. 2-4 servings per day.
Shelf 3: milk, cheese and yogurt group. The foods in this group provide calcium for strong bones and teeth. 3 servings per day.
Shelf 4: meat, fish and alternatives such as beans. These foods provide protein for growth and iron to help the body function well. 2 servings per day.
Shelf 5: The small shelf at the top of the Food Pyramid contains foods such as sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, crisps, butter, oils and fats. These foods should only be eaten in small amounts. While young children are growing fast and need some fat in their diet, too much fat can cause health problems.
Note: The Food Pyramid servings are suitable for children from five years of age and should be used as a guideline. For younger children use smaller quantities and less servings and adjust to the child’s growth and appetite.
(Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Preschool Services, Dept of Health and Children, publication located in the full link below).