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Foods for babies (solids) 2 - questions and answers

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Starting babies on solid foods is an important milestone in their life.

Until around six months of age, breast milk or infant formula meets all of your baby's nutritional needs. Even after your baby has started on solid foods, breast milk or infant formula is still an important source of nutrition.

Parents often have questions about what sort of foods are good for babies and what they are better off without. This topic comes from questions parents have asked us about feeding their babies.

Contents

Babies need to be encouraged to try many different foods, so if your baby seems to mostly want only one food have a talk to your child health nurse or a dietitian to get some more ideas.

To find out how and when to start your baby on solids see the topic 'Foods for babies (solids) 1 -how and when to start'.

Do I need to add anything to my baby's food?

Babies enjoy foods that might taste bland to adults. There is no need to add extra sugars, fats or salt. Eating foods without additions allows your baby to identify new tastes and enjoy the natural flavours of healthy foods.

How do I know when my baby has had enough?

Babies will let you know when they have had enough food by turning away or refusing any more. Never force feed your baby. It is the parent or caregiver who decides what type of food is offered and when it is offered, but the child decides how much of that food to eat.

What about food allergies?

There is no need to delay or avoid potentially allergenic foods (such as egg, peanuts, wheat, cow’s milk, soy and fish) to prevent food allergies or eczema.

Symptoms of food allergy include skin rashes, hives, swelling, vomiting, wheezing or other breathing problems, or in rare cases collapse. If you think your child has a food allergy stop giving your child the food causing the reaction and see your doctor to help identify the trigger for your child’s reaction. A specialist referral may be needed.

If your child has symptoms that include breathing difficulties or collapse, seek emergency medical attention.

How should I prepare my baby's food?

Preparing food at home from fresh ingredients is the best way to make healthy food for your family and your baby. Fresh foods are nutritious and help your baby learn about colours, textures and the natural flavour of foods.

  • Steam or boil fruit and vegetables in a little water with no added sugar or salt.
  • Slow cooking meat can make it tender and easier for babies to manage.
  • Puree foods using a blender, food processor or stick mixer.
  • Try cooking food in large quantities and freeze it in small portions (eg using an ice cube tray).
    • Once the cubes of food have set and are frozen take the trays out of the freezer and transfer the cubes into freezer bags.
    • Label the bags with the date of preparation and the type of food.
    • Frozen food should be used within a month of freezing.

What about commercial baby foods?

It is best not to rely on canned and packet baby foods for all of your baby's meals.

  • Frequent use of these foods may lead to delayed chewing and poor acceptance of new tastes and textures.
  • Choose these foods sometimes, when it is not possible to use home cooked meals.
  • Some commercial foods such as individual vegetables and fruit pulp (with no added sugar) can be handy to include in your baby's diet on a more regular basis.

What about food safety?

Babies are at greater risk of serious illness from food poisoning. It is important to keep your baby's food safe.

Tips for keeping baby food safe:

  • Always wash your hands before preparing food
  • Use clean equipment to prepare, serve and store food
  • Foods like meat, chicken, fish and eggs should be well cooked
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before preparing
  • Store prepared food in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer
  • Re-heat pre-prepared food thoroughly before cooling it down to give your baby
  • Never re-heat food more than once
  • Dairy foods should always be pasteurised (i.e. not 'fresh from the farm').
  • Always use products before their use-by date

If food has been kept out at room temperature (but not eaten):

  • For two hours or less – put it in the fridge or eat it straight away
  • For more than two hours (but less than four hours) – eat it straight away
  • For more than four hours – throw it out

Foods and drinks that are not suitable for your baby

  • Honey – can cause an illness called botulism and should not be given to babies under 12 months.
  • Fruit juice – high in sugar and can cause tooth decay. Should not be given to babies under 12 months and should be limited in young children
  • Tea, herbal teas, coffee, chocolate drinks and cola drinks – contain tannins and/or caffeine that are not suitable for babies and young children.
  • Soft drinks or cordials – are high in sugar, can cause tooth decay and are not necessary.
  • Unpasteurised dairy products (eg 'fresh' from the farm) – can contain harmful bacteria that makes babies and children very sick.
  • Hard foods such as chips, popcorn, nuts and lollies – can cause your child to choke and should not be given.

How do I prevent choking?

Children of any age can choke on food, but children under four years are most at risk because they have fewer teeth and are still learning to eat, chew and swallow.

Gagging is different to choking. Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat chewable foods. Children should gag less as their chewing skills develop.

To make eating safer:

  • Do not give food or drink to children when they are running, playing, laughing or crying
  • Always sit children down to eat
  • Stay close and watch children while they eat
  • Encourage children to eat slowly and chew well
  • Encourage children to feed themselves

Have a look at  Choking on food and other objects

Vegetarian diets

To grow and develop normally, children need to eat foods from all of the food groups such as breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, meat and meat alternatives (foods rich in protein, Iron, Zinc and Vitamin B12) and dairy foods.

To avoid missing out on important nutrients, meat, chicken, fish and eggs need to be replaced with foods that will provide protein, vitamins and minerals. Planning is needed to make sure they eat a balanced diet.

For more information have a look at the information sheet developed by the Dietitians at the Women's and Children's Hospital South Australia A guide to vegetarian diets in children.

Traditional diets

Various ethnic groups have traditional diets, which are usually balanced and healthy, as long as natural, fresh foods are used. Don't add too many highly refined western foods. Choose the foods you like to use from the ones suggested for babies and prepare them in your traditional way.

Special diets

Special diets may be needed for a variety of problems.
Make sure to get advice from a doctor, child health nurse or dietitian before putting your child on a special diet.
It is important that children get enough different types of food to meet their needs for growth and development.

Baby's weight

We hear a lot about the problem of obesity in our society, so it is natural for parents to be concerned. Overweight children may become overweight adults, but the younger the child, the less likely this is. However if parents are very overweight, their children are more likely to have the same problem.

So, what does this mean for babies?

The first year of life is one of very rapid growth, and putting on a layer of fat is normal and healthy at this stage.
Some babies do get very large, but as long as they have a healthy diet, their weight tends to settle down in the toddler years. They may not gain much weight at all between one and three, but grow a lot taller.

It is important for babies and children to be able to choose how much they eat, so they can develop their own appetite controls. This will help them avoid weight problems later on. If children are forced to finish all the food on their plate, they may well develop a habit of over-eating.

Ensure your child, and the whole family, are active. Getting plenty of exercise is really important for good health.

Key points

  • Babies need solid foods at around six months of age.
  • To prevent iron deficiency make sure iron-rich foods are included in your baby's first foods.
  •  introduced at a time.
  • There is no need to avoid or delay the introduction of potentially allergenic foods (eg egg).
  • Breast milk or infant formula is still an important part of baby's diets during the first 12 months. Continue to breastfeed as long as both you and your baby desire.
  • Cow's milk should not be the main drink until after 12 months, but small amounts of cow's milk in foods from six months is okay.
  • Always watch babies and young children when they are eating and avoid foods that can cause choking.
  • Never force feed or bribe your child to eat.
  • Learning to eat should be fun! Allow your baby to explore their food and get messy!
  • Eat with your baby as much as you can – babies learn by watching what you do.

Further information

If you are concerned about your child's eating it is a good idea to discuss the issues with your Child and Family Health nurse or call the parent helpline on 1300 364 100.

If you are still concerned you may like to see your General Practitioner (GP), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or Paediatrician (child doctor).

Information in this topic is from the booklet developed by the Nutrition Department of the Women's and Children's Health Network 'First foods'
http://www.wch.sa.gov.au/services/az/other/nutrition/documents/First_Foods.pdf

The original nutritional and educational content of this booklet has been reviewed by specialist Dietitians at the Women's and Children's Health Network (WCHN), SA Health. Revised August 2013

Food product information contained in this booklet was up to date at the time of revision. If you are not sure about a food, check with the manufacturer.

Produced by
Women's and Children's Health Network Nutrition Department
72 King William Road
North Adelaide SA 5006
Phone (08) 8161 7233

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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