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10 things you must know about feeding babies

Your baby is approaching the age to start switching from exclusively drinking milk, to supplying that milk with other food. You might have some questions about the right way to go about it. The truth is if you know the most important do's and don'ts you are free to experiment and look for the approach that works best for your baby.

Dad feeding baby with spoon

There are some things that are important to know before you get started. If you take these things into account, there’s really a lot of possibilities to find your own way of feeding your baby. Know that food is extremely culture related and also very personal.

1/ Baby food doesn’t need to be bland, you can use herbs and spices for extra flavour

The world of herbs and spices has long been avoided for our little eaters. Not rightly so. Although it is important that babies get to know pure flavours, you can definitely add flavour by adding some herbs and spices. Fresh, soft herbs like basil, coriander and dille and fragrant spices like cumin, cinnamon and nutmeg are great ways to introduce some more fragrant flavours into your baby’s palate. On top of that, herbs and spices are beneficial for our bodies. For example, parsley is very rich in vitamins C and K and in iron and many spices have antioxidant properties. If you want to know more about which herbs and spices to use and how, you can read our article on the topic.

2/ Don’t use any salt in year one. Keep in to a minimum until 6 years old

Our bodies need some salt to balance fluids in the blood and maintain a healthy blood balance. However, we should be careful not to consume salt in excess. Studies have shown that adults, on average, consume too much salt, which can lead to a range of health problems.

For babies under 1 year the consumption of salt can be damaging to the kidneys, which is why the advice of all health and food safety institutions is to not add any salt to food and refrain from serving processed foods containing lots of salt, such as cured meats, crisps or frozen store bought meals. Also, serving salty foods during those young years might help create a preference for salty foods later on in life. This is yet another reason why we want our children to eat flavoursome, but not necessarily salty food.

3/ Avoid ultra processed food

Processed food is often very high in either sugar or salt. Foods like cured meats and sausages, sauces or frozen pizza are very high in salt. That’s why you should really avoid giving them to your baby before they’re one year old. Processed meat in particular is something to avoid, at any age for that matter. Sweets like candy, cookies or cereal often contain a lot of sugar, which is also something we really want to avoid in those first years.

4/ Babies have a very small stomach and a high need for energy. Try to provide energy rich food

We never grow as fast as in our first year of life. Babies’ bodyweight triples from birth till their first birthday. To add to that, babies also have a small stomach so the food they eat has to be rich in energy. Energy rich foods are foods that contain a good amount of fat or carbs.

Some fatty foods you should definitely incorporate into your child’s diet are nuts (in the form of nut paste), seeds, legumes, fish and avocados. The preference goes to unsaturated fats, compared to saturated fats. Oils such as olive oil and sesame oil for hot preparations and canola or walnut oil for cold preparations). Coconut oil is not the best option because it contains quite a lot of saturated fat, but since it’s heat resistant it’s still a good option for baked goods. Animal products that are high in fat are eggs, salmon (especially in omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for cognitive development). Meat is also a source of fat, although it also contains the less healthy saturated fats.

Foods that are high in carbs are potatoes (both regular and sweet potatoes), whole wheat bread, rice or pasta. These foods are high in complex carbohydrates and will give plenty of energy for your baby to play and develop. Simple carbohydrates, which can be found in soda, candy or other processed sweets should be avoided.

5/ try to go for iron rich food

Around the age of 6 months, the iron levels in babies go down. Which means that breastmilk or formula will not be sufficient anymore to provide enough iron. This is when we have to start supplementing milk with food, specifically iron rich food.

Iron rich food can be found in meat, fish, poultry and dairy. This doesn’t mean you can’t meet iron needs without serving animal products. Iron can also be found in plants such as beans, lentils and chickpeas. Soy based products like tofu and tempé are great iron sources. Green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, leeks and kale are also rich in iron. So are seeds and nuts. If you combine an iron rich food with a food rich in vitamin C, like tomatoes, peppers or citrus fruits, the iron intake will be higher. This means vitamin C is especially important for vegetarians. We listed 8 iron-rich, vegetarian recipes to give those iron levels a boost.

6/ Drinking: milk first, then water, then the rest

During the first year, milk (either formula or breastmilk) remains the most important source of nutrition (and certainly hydration) for your baby. This provides them with enough hydration and all the other good stuff they get from breast milk or formula. This means before the age of 1 year giving water to your baby is theoretically not necessary and you shouldn't give them any water before they are 6 months old, although it's not unsafe to do so either. Having some water in the first year can be good to train drinking from a cup. You can also do that with milk but the consistency is a bit different. Extra water might also be necessary when your baby is having diarrhoea or it is a very hot summer and your baby just needs some extra hydration.

You can infuse water with some fruit or ginger, lemongrass or mint. Any other sweetened drinks, even store bought juice, can be served on occasion after your baby’s first birthday. Try to avoid serving it regularly.

7/ Avoiding very sweet food

We are all born with a sweet tooth. This means babies will naturally gravitate towards sweet food. For that reason it’s important to also offer more sour, grassy, earthy or even bitter flavours. Naturally sweet foods are no problem at all, just avoid sweetening every meal with sweet fruit for example. What is a problem is adding sugar or other sweeteners. We don’t want our children’s brains to get used to this very sweet flavour and expect it in future meals. Also, we’re protecting our children’s teeth by limiting their sugar intake.

Try our unsweetened sweet potato pancakes:

8/ No honey

Honey is probably the most well known no-go product for babies under one year. It may contain clostridium botulinum spores that can cause botulism. Infection is rare but if a baby gets infected the consequences can be very severe. The spores are heat resistant which means you can't give baked goods or cereals containing honey either.

So no honey or any honey derived products at all before the age of one.

9/ Texture & finger food

Babies, at the start of their food journey, don’t know how to chew or swallow. They need to learn everything from scratch. For that reason, we want to make sure their food’s texture allows them to practice these skills in a safe way.

There are different methods for doing this, with purees going from completely smooth to more chunky being the most common. Another method is serving pieces of food that your baby can grab and munch on. This is often called the Rapley-method or baby-led weaning. Both have pros and cons but it’s important to inform yourself before getting started. Read more on food texture for more info on which texture is right for which age.

No matter which method you go for, finger food is an important part of the learning process. It allows children to take control, feed themselves and practice while eating. And most of all, it’s super fun! Our preverbal speech therapist writes more on the topic of finger food in this article.

Try these finger foods for your little eater:

10/ The importance of imitation & having fun at the table

Children learn by observation and imitation. That’s why it’s so important to set the right example. If you want your child to grow up enjoying all kinds of foods, it will be much harder if the parents are very picky eaters. If your child sees you enjoying a piece of broccoli, she will be much more likely to enjoy it as well.

The same goes for the skills required for eating. Watching parents or other family members, like older brothers or sisters, using cutlery or drinking from a cup will help in teaching the child how to do just that.

Try to eat at the same moment as much as you can. Of course, work schedules can make that difficult sometimes, but then try to use the weekends or other free moments to eat together and make it a happy, stress free moment. Prepare for some messiness, or maybe for a not so enthusiastic reaction to a certain food from your baby, but don’t let it take away from the joy of sharing a meal together.

Father feeding child landscape

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