To ensure good physical development, the child will need a healthy diet and proper food preparation.
A healthy diet
The only food a baby needs for the first few months is milk. Weaning is the term used to describe the process of gradually reducing the amount of milk feeds and introducing solid foods. This is the start of mixed feeding.
Very often a parent may be tempted to start weaning the baby too early, thinking that milk is insufficient. Although many babies feel the need for solid foods at about four months, breast and bottle milk contain sufficient nutrients for the first six months of life. The following are possible results of starting mixed feeding before the child needs it:
- It can reduce the baby’s desire to suck and therefore cause less breast milk to be produced.
- As the child’s digestive tract is not fully developed for the first three months
- The food will be largely undigested and digestive troubles can be caused.
- Strain will be put on the baby’s kidneys.
- The baby may develop allergies to certain protein foods, or develop coeliac disease, due to an intolerance of the protein gluten which is present in some cereals.
When a baby shows obvious signs that his milk feeds are not filling him, if he keeps chewing his fists andfor his bottle well before it is due, he will be ready to start on solid foods.
Weaning and mixed feeding should be very gradual processes. Choose the 10.00 a.m. or 2.00 p.m. feed to introduce the new food, before giving the baby his milk. Start straight away with spoon feeding, not by adding cereal to his bottle. Give one or two teaspoonfuls of rice cereal mixed to a runny paste with breast or bottle milk or fruit or vegetable purée or strained broth. All food given should be a smooth purée free from lumps.
The baby will probably not like it at first as it is a new experience. He should never be forced to eat. Take things slowly and go at his pace. If he obviously does not want to try it, give him his milk and try the new food a few days later.
Try to maintain a relaxed atmosphere – if the parent is tense at meal times then the baby will be too.
As the amount of solid food increases, the number of milk feeds decreases, and the baby will need plenty of fluid in the form of water and fruit juice.
As the baby becomes accustomed to the idea of solid foods, new flavours can be gradually introduced, although babies do not usually like highly spiced foods. After a time it will be possible to plan for the child to get a balanced diet from solid foods alone, including all the nutrients.
Healthy food habits start when the baby first begins mixed feeding. The diet must contain enough fibre to provide the roughage necessary for satisfactory bowel movements. This means using unrefined ingredients such as wholemeal flour and bread, wholemeal rice and pasta, and fibrous fruit and vegetables. The necessary protein can be obtained from cheese, milk, eggs and fish, with just small amounts of meat.
There is an increasing trend in the US and UK towards a vegetarian diet, and babies and young children can thrive perfectly well on a balanced meatless diet that contains eggs and dairy products, pulses and vegetables, to provide enough protein. Salt and sugar should be avoided; babies are not born with a desire for them, and too much of either can damage health by leading to excess weight or higher blood pressure in the long term. When making up the baby food from fresh ingredients, the parent should choose ripe fruits (bananas, pears, dessert apples, peaches) which do not need sugar. Vegetables can be cooked and puréed without salt. If the parent is buyings, he or she should look on the label to see that they are free from salt and sugar. Parents should also avoid giving babies biscuits and cakes, fatty, fried foods, warmed up left-overs, and foods with a lot of additives and preservatives.
Babies love to use their hands to find out about food. From six months onwards they should be able to attempt to feed themselves, either with finger foods (which can include rusks, toasted crusts, sticks of carrot, peeled apple, etc.), or using a spoon or their hands. This is a messy stage, but worth it, to avoid feeding problems later.
By the age of six months a baby will be on to normal family feeding times with possibly an early morning and/or a nightly milk feed. He will be able to have ordinary cow’s milk as long as it is boiled and cooled for him.
By the time a child is at the mixed feeding stage, it is not necessary to sterilise all the equipment used, as was the case with. It is still necessary, however, to be very careful with the preparation and handling of the baby’s food, to prevent contamination with bacteria.
Hygienic food safety rules:
- Hands and nails must be thoroughly clean to start with.
- All equipment used must be washed in hot soapy water and dried with clean tea towels. It should not be cracked or chipped.
- All dish cloths, tea towels and pan scrubs need regular washing and sterilising.
- Food preparation surfaces must be cleaned well. They should not be cracked or chipped, as they would then harbour germs.
- Cupboards, the fridge and storage jars where food is kept should be kept clean.
- Frozen foods must be properly defrosted before cooking, especially poultry.
- Meat and fish should be thoroughly cooked through and never partly cooked and then reheated.
- Left-overs should be stored, covered, in a fridge, and kept for only one or two days.
- Some dishes can be made up in bulk and frozen in suitable sized portions to save time and fuel.
- Bacteria quickly multiply in milk and milk products. Left-over milk or milk dishes should not be reheated for use.
- If the peel is left on raw fruit or vegetables it should be well washed or scrubbed.
- The person feeding a child should never test the taste or temperature of the food or drink first, and then put the same spoon or cup to the baby’s mouth.
- Food which the baby drops on the floor such as rusks, pieces of apple, etc., should be washed if possible, otherwise thrown away.
When a baby first starts to take solid food, and up to about six or seven months, the food will need to be in the form of a puree, otherwise the child may choke. There are three main methods of making a purée.
For the first few weeks the baby will only be eating a few spoonfuls of the food prepared for him. The adults looking after him will have to decide whether to make the food themselves or to buy some of the wide range ofs which are available. Most parents tend to do both, making the foods themselves when it is practical to do so and using commercial ones for convenience.
Commercial baby foods come in a wide range of sweet or savoury, either as one food or as a complete dish such as egg custard. They may be tinned, in jars, or dried (in packets). They are available as strained foods for the young baby, and minced or chopped (`junior meals’) for the child from six months onwards. The cans, jars or packets may be colour-coded to distinguish types of foods and consistency.
A comparison of home-made baby food and commercial baby foods
Home-made baby foods
- Cheaper if the family meals are suitable for the baby.
- Food can be made up in bulk and frozen in portions.
- Parents know what is in the food.
- No additives, preservatives, artificial colourings, salt, sugar need be added.
- Not bulked out with too much cereal which has fattening effect.
- Fresh foods can be used which may be of higher nutritional value.
- Psychological satisfaction of making food for baby.
- Baby is part of family meals, not eating something different.
- Cheaper if the parent needs to buy special equipment and foods to purée.
- Incorrect sieving could leave lumps which could choke the child.
- Inefficient cleaning of equipment and food preparation could lead to tummy upsets.
- Parents may add sugar or salt to the adult taste, which is too much for a baby.
- It is tempting to give the child unsuitable foods (e.g., fried or spicey foods) because the rest of the family are having them.
- Time-consuming, messy job. Emotionally upsetting to parents if baby wastes the food which involves their time and effort.
- If only very small quantities are needed a lot may have to be thrown away, which is wasteful.
Commercial Baby Foods
- Involves much less work and effort – only needs warming up, if that.
- Manufacturers have prepared foods which are suitable for a baby.
- Large variety of food available.
- Useful when travelling, going on holiday or leaving the baby with someone else.
- Useful if the parent is ill or very busy.
- Prepared under hygienic conditions which may be better than in the home.
- Parents do not feel as frustrated if the baby will not eat the food as they would if they had prepared it specially.
- If baby goes off the taste or it disagrees with him the whole tin or packet will have to be throwaway.
- Many brands have far too much sweetening c’ salt added.
- Preservatives and other additives are often included.
- Too much cereal and other fattening ingredients may be present.