Eating tips for children
Babies grow quickly in the first year of life, so they need plenty of energy (kilojoules) and nutrients. A child’s growth isn’t always steady and even, which means that appetite and hunger can be unpredictable.
The amounts of foods eaten by your baby and their interest in food may be a little different from day to day. This is normal and shouldn’t cause any concerns if your baby is growing well.
Introduce solids at about six months of age
Breast milk is an important food for babies until at least 12 months of age, or longer if the mum and baby desire. Infant formula is important until 12 months. By about six months of age, a baby’s iron stores are low and extra foods will be needed to maintain healthy growth and prevent nutritional problems such as iron deficiency. Start to introduce solids around six months of age – when your baby starts showing interest in food.
Clues that your baby is ready for solids
When your baby starts to need the nutrients that solid food can provide, there will be obvious signs they are ready to try solid foods. These include:
Good head control and able to sit up with support
Watching and leaning forwards when food is around
Reaching out to grab food or spoons to put in their mouth
Opening their mouth when food is offered.
Physical readiness for solids
Your baby’s organs and body grow and develop certain physical traits between four and six months. This indicates that their body is ready physically for solids. This maturing process includes:
Digestive system – digestive enzymes that help to digest food are developed.
Immune system – immune gut defence mechanism is fully developed.
Mouth and tongue – your baby is able to move food to the back of their mouth and swallow safely.
Head and neck – your baby is able to hold their head up; head control helps them to sit up straight and swallow.
Kidneys – your baby’s kidneys can now handle the increased load produced by solids.
Starting solids too early can cause problems
Hungry babies should be offered more breast or formula feeds until they are ready for solids. Some parents want to try solids early, believing this may help baby grow, sleep or settle better. Giving solids too early rarely helps these problems and may lead to other difficulties including:
Poor growth, if the solid food replaces breast milk or formula
Loose bowel actions or diarrhoea, if the baby cannot digest the food.
Don’t leave starting solids too late
It’s also important that starting solids is not left too late, as this may lead to problems including:
Poor growth due to low energy intake
Iron deficiency anaemia
Feeding problems, particularly if not started before about seven to nine months of age.
Signs that your baby is not interested
Signs that your baby is not interested or is full may include closing the mouth tightly and turning the head away when offered food. They may cry when the food is offered or may push the spoon away. If this happens at your first attempts to feed your baby, relax and try again in a few days. While most babies naturally spit food out when first given solids, they soon learn to accept foods if you continue.
Getting to know when your baby is hungry or full is important to having happy, relaxed and enjoyable mealtimes.
Tips for introducing solids
Be calm and relaxed when you start to feed your baby.
Make sure your child is sitting comfortably and is not too hungry.
Be patient. Your baby may only take a spoonful at first, but this will increase with time and practice.
Be prepared – all babies will make a mess as they learn to eat.
Stay with your child while eating to avoid accidents such as choking.
Try again in a day or so if your baby refuses the first time.
Wait several days before introducing a new food
Offer foods on a small, infant-sized spoon.
Suggested first foods