5 Food Tips for Optimal Baby Development

Nutrition is vital for growing infants. Here are five tips to support baby development using food.

A mother trying to feed her infant sitting on a kitchen island. 

Whether taking the first step, saying the first word or letting out the first smile, witnessing your baby’s development is always an exciting moment for any parent. But for children to achieve these milestones, their health must come first. And to be healthy, they need to eat well. 

Much has been said about the significance of feeding breast milk to babies. But what about their food? For first-time parents, especially, choosing the right foods for their growing infants might be an ordeal. This article will list some simple tips to make sure your children receive the best nutrition they need for their physical and mental development.  

The Importance of Nutrition in Baby Development

A mother carrying her infant while picking out frozen ingredients in a supermarket.
Choosing the right foods is crucial for optimal baby development.

The first two years of a child’s life are crucial for their growth. Adequate nutrition during this period would support their development and health. On the other hand, insufficient and inappropriate nutrition can lead to issues such as: 

  1. Childhood obesity 
  2. Growth stunting
  3. Impaired intellectual performance
  4. Malnourished female children have been known to experience reduced reproductive capacity as adults
  5. Death 

What is considered adequate and appropriate nutrition? According to World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF’s global recommendations, optimal infant feeding includes: 

  1. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months
  2. Complementary feeding from the age of six months with continued breastfeeding up to two years old or beyond 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the body’s Spleen and Stomach play integral roles in a child’s overall development. An improper diet can disrupt the transportation and absorption of nutrients. Your child should avoid overeating, eating cold and raw foods and consuming too many supplements as this will inhibit a child’s body from growing normally.

Infants are born with delicate internal organs and an inadequate flow of qi. Because of this, their bodies may be susceptible to the invasion of external Cold pathogens. Eu Yan Sang physician Luke Yau Wai recommends preventing this by avoiding feeding your child pungent foods. This includes spices such as garlic, ginger, onions, chillies and peppers.

How to Get the Right Nutrition for Baby Development

A baby being fed eggs; yolk smeared around their mouth.
Food such as eggs is a great source of protein and nutrients for baby development.

In TCM, some appropriate food choices are orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut and acorn squash) and later non-glutinous grain cereals first (millet, rice, and quinoa). These foods will tonify the Spleen and help set your child up for healthy digestive function.

When introducing solids, TCM recommends steaming or slow cooking all foods and always serving foods warmed to a baby-appropriate temperature. Heating the food to body temperature helps to aid in the easy digestion of new solids. If your baby rejects food, maybe it’s too soon. Stick with breast milk and try again in a week or a few weeks.

When a baby reaches the age of six months, they’ll require more energy and nutrients that breast milk cannot provide. It’s why complementary feeding becomes necessary. 

Complementary foods must be nutritious, safe and appropriate so an infant can fulfil their needs for energy and nutrients. Here are five tips on feeding your children right: 

1. Pick light-flavoured foods 

Remember that adults’ taste buds aren’t the same as babies. What we consider too light or perhaps bland could taste delicious to babies. Vice versa, what adults consider savoury might be too strong for the little ones. 

Avoid foods with added sugar (muffins, flavoured yoghurts, cookies) and high in salt (canned foods, processed meats, frozen dinners). Keep infants away from sugar-sweetened drinks, such as soda, flavoured milk, sports drinks, flavoured water and juices.

Bear in mind that some baby food brands available in the market are rich in sugar and salt or have added flavourings like vanillin. Be cautious when purchasing these products and refer to their nutritional labels.

2. Stay away from unpasteurised drinks or foods 

Fresh juices, raw milk, yoghurt and cheeses must be avoided. Since these products haven’t undergone the pasteurisation process, they may contain harmful bacteria. When fed to a child, they can cause severe diarrhoea or other serious health problems.

3. Eggs are good 

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eggs as one of the first foods for infants and toddlers. The guidelines believe that introducing eggs early might reduce the risk of an egg allergy. Moreover, eggs are a source of choline (similar to vitamin B), a nutrient that plays a huge role in brain development.

There used to be a concern that egg whites may trigger an allergy in infants, but studies have shown that introducing eggs when they are younger might protect them against an egg allergy. Just make sure to cook the eggs properly before feeding them to your child. 

4. Babies need dietary fat 

Some parents are worried that feeding their children fat might make them obese. The truth is, babies younger than two years old need fat to grow. 

Infants and toddlers require energy from fats such as omega-3, omega-6 and monounsaturated fats to keep up with the calories they use for growth and rapid brain development. Therefore, restricting their fat intake might lead to poor growth in young children.

5. Add colours  

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow well, and they can get them from a balanced meal. A diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats and pasteurised dairy would benefit infants greatly. Try creating a rainbow of different coloured foods such as berries, banana, salmon, spinach and pumpkin on your children’s plates to encourage them to eat healthily.

Eating right is the key to positive baby development but getting the appropriate nutrition is as vital for children as for adults. So, why not begin with yourself? Set a good example by consuming a healthy diet. Let your children watch you and follow in your footsteps. After all, healthy babies can only come from healthy parents.

This is an adaptation of an article, “What to Deal with Baby’s Growth?”, which first appeared on the Eu Yan Sang website.

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2009. The importance of infant and young child feeding and recommended practices [Accessed on 4 August 2022] 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Foods and Drinks to Avoid or Limit.  [Accessed on 4 August 2022] 
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2018. Foods and Drinks to Encourage.  [Accessed on 4 August 2022] 
  4. PR Newswire. 2020. New Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eggs for the nutrition babies need for brain development.  [Accessed on 4 August 2022] 
  5. American Family Physician. 2006. Nutrition in Toddlers.  [Accessed on 4 August 2022] 

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