Feeding infants and toddlers

Feeding small children involves more than simply meeting their nutritional needs to promote healthy growth and development. There are numerous other issues to contend with including the child’s behaviour, your own anxieties around expectations of feeding your child, and negotiating the marketing material used to advertise the ‘benefits’ of using a particular brand of children’s food.

You can influence your child’s eating habits through encouragingthem to establish healthy dietary behaviour right from the start. One important consideration is to choose nutritious foods for your infant as you introduce solids and then provide as wide a variety as possible as your child grows and advances with his/her eating. This is a primary factor in the development of long term healthy eating behaviours. Consuming these foods yourself will set a leading example. 

Avoid exposure to foods such as sweets until much older (up to two years if possible!) so that your child has a chance to develop more subtle tastes before becoming attracted to the more intense (‘tastier’) flavours. Be aware of the added sugars in many snack foods for children, including some baby yoghurts. Avoid eating foods when you are around your children that you would prefer them not to have.

Regular meal patterns are also important as it provides stability and routine and minimises poor behaviour resulting from hunger (which infants and toddlers are usually not able to verbalise). Try to establish family meal times as soon as possible after introducing solids to your infant’s food regime. Sitting at the table and eating a meal improves a child’s social skills and gives an early message about eating in a relaxed way with family and friends. Make sure the TV is off at meal times!

Introducing solids to infants

Generally food is introduced to an infant between 4-6 months old. There is no need to rush into introducing food as long as the baby is consistently attaining physical milestones, is alert and healthy. Six months old is now the recommended age for the introduction of solids when the infant’s digestive system is mature enough to tolerate this process. Parents may be in a hurry to introduce solids for the wrong reasons, like believing it will help their baby sleep through the night or because of pressure from family or friends. Sandra recommends Introducing solids slowly - a small quantity one food at a time at intervals of 3-4 days between each new food.
Whilst it is understood that it is not always possible, ideally a baby should be exclusively breastfed up to 6 months of age. This is a recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) who state that breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients needed for healthy growth and development. (WHO also encourage breastfeeding to be continued up to two years of age with appropriate solid foods). Breastfeeding should ideally be continued whilst solids are introduced, as the important antibody IgA that is found in breast milk helps to protect the infant from potential allergy by acting as a local paint for the baby’s intestines, preventing the entry of foreign substances that may trigger an allergic response. (If establishing or maintaining an adequate breast milk supply is a problem, please consult with your naturopath about the use of galactogogues (herbs that increase milk production) and our breast feeding smoothie.)

The local maternal and child health nurse usually is a source of providing information about the sequence of introducing solids to an infant. While this information can serve as a useful general guideline, consult with your naturopathic practitioner, who will provide more detailed and varied suggestions to meet your infant’s nutritional needs and importantly to minimise the likelihood of allergy or intolerance, especially to the potentially allergic infant.  This advice may include general advice such as avoiding the most common allergens including milk, wheat, tomatoes and citrus for at least twelve months. It was commonly recommended that eggs also be left until after twelve months before being introduced to an infant. Recent research has suggested that an earlier introduction of cooked egg, at four to six months might protect against egg allergy. There may be a change in infant feeding guidelines to reflect this, but as yet, there are no established guidelines. Discuss with your healthcare professional. Sandra can also discuss how to use low allergenic grains in an easy manner; as well as look at specific nutritional requirements for vegetarian babies for example (ask about quinoa for your infant).

What to expect from toddlers behaviour and eating

Toddlers eating behaviour especially can be changeable and erratic. An understanding of the typical toddler behaviour allows a parent to use this information in planning meal times. The toddler years are a time of exploration and expressing greater autonomy. Toddlers explore their senses of smell, taste and touch with the different food and want to feed themselves but also practice refusing foods. They have a need for a sense of security and ritual, and familiar items /toys and food help to dictate their daily routine – so a familiar spoon for eating or a particular breakfast for a toddler helps them feel secure. Toddlers also have a limited attention span and are easily distracted so keeping mealtimes short and sometimes feeding away from other distracting family members can be useful. They are however, aware of others and imitate them, so conversely, sitting and eating with other family members who are happily eating also encourages acceptance of foods.

A few tips for feeding your toddler or young child

Specific Nutritional needs for infants and toddlers

There are a number of specific nutrients that infants and toddlers may be at risk of not getting enough of in their diet. These include iron, zinc, calcium vitamin D and essential fatty acids. Calcium and fish oils will be discussed elsewhere in this newsletter. Sandra recommends good dietary practices in preference to supplements and you can speak to Sandra about ways of adding foods to meet these needs in the diet of children. However, in some cases a supplement may be warranted and you may need to discuss with your naturopath suitable options for your child.