This article is written by Tara Sofair, the nutritionist for Little Ones. She highlights the main concerns we had with store bought baby food which is why we started Petite Eats in the first place.
Why is infant nutrition so important?
In the first two years of an infant’s life nutrition plays a vital role in growth and development so it is essential that little ones have access to nutritious food and the nutrients that they need at this age.
Little ones are growing and changing rapidly and their nutrition needs grow rapidly as well; if these needs are not met, their growth and development can be critically delayed or affected.
Choosing wholefoods, that are naturally packed with nutrients, is the best way to meet their growing nutrition needs and set them up for health and success.
What nutrients are most important for little ones?
The 5 important food groups for little ones under the age of 12 months are:
Lean meat and meat alternatives
Yoghurt and cheese*
*over 12 months old this category includes cow’s milk, however cow’s milk is not recommended as a drink for little ones under the age of 12 months.
It is important that a little one eats a wide variety of healthy foods from the 5 food groups as each provides different nutrients (for example iron in lean meats and meat alternatives, B vitamins in wholegrains, vitamin c and antioxidants in fruit and vegetables, calcium in yoghurt and cheese).
While all nutrients are important, a nutrient that should be primarily focused on at this age is iron. This is because iron stores from pregnancy start to deplete at around 6 months and the iron in breast milk (while highly bioavailable) is not enough to completely sustain the needs of a baby after this age.
This puts little ones this age at a higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia, which can lead to delayed growth and development.
Why is homemade food better than store bought?
While generic store bought products are convenient, they often contain unnecessary additives and are not always transparent about the actual ingredients of the product on the front of the packet.
For example on the front of a generic product it might say ‘Sweet potato, pumpkin and sweetcorn’ which would lead parents to believe that the ingredients were purely vegetables. However, when you take a look at the ingredients list on some of these products, the first ingredient is often pureed apple, a thickener like cornflour, then the vegetables are third on the list (and only make up 30% of the total product), and finally the product might contain dextrose (added sugar), as well as herbs and spices.
Why are products that contain simple ingredients important?
While little ones are just starting solids and are more receptive to trying new foods, it is important that they try a variety of new flavours, particularly the more bitter flavours of vegetables, which can be harder to introduce as a baby gets older. Generic store bought baby food is not always the ideal choice because it does not necessarily expose little ones to new flavours as most have a similar base (tomato, rice or apple) and therefore any new flavours can be masked by these flavour bases.
The bottom line:
When choosing foods for your little one it is important to offer a variety of healthy foods from the 5food groups, to ensure that they receive a diverse range of nutrients. Try to choose homemade, wholefoods as much as possible to ensure that they learn to love real, nutrient-dense foods and to offer iron rich foods at least 2 times per day to reduce their risk of iron-deficiency anaemia.
For more information about starting solids, including meal plans and recipes, Little Ones have a comprehensive Nutrition Program, written by Tara Sofair - Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Article written by Tara Sofair - Accredited Practising Dietitian.