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Best for baby and toddler

Babies and toddlers have specific nutritional needs, so how can you ensure your little one is getting what they need?

Nutritional needs

“Babies and toddlers need different levels of certain nutrients as they are growing and developing at a very rapid rate, both in terms of body growth and brain development,” says Sian Eustace from Healing Harvest in Kinvara, Co Galway. “The nutrition babies and toddlers receive at this early stage, and indeed in utero, has been shown to have profound effects on their lifelong health.”

“Babies and toddlers’ digestive systems are not yet fully developed so they need to be gradually introduced to different food sources,” according to Angela Mc Glanaghey from Simple Simon in Donegal town.

“They are growing and developing at a rapid rate and their nutritional needs are different to older children,” says Helena Murphy also of Simple Simon. “Young babies totally rely on mother’s milk or formula for their nutritional needs where toddlers are just starting to eat different foods.”

Best baby foods

“Babies should eat healthy nutritious foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables and a balanced diet,” according to Angela McGlanaghey. “Home-made food is best where possible as it naturally will contain less additives.”

“Up to the age of six months, babies should only consume milk, and this would preferably be breastmilk as this is nutritionally tailored for the infant,” says Sian Eustace. “From six months on, you can start to feed your baby a variety of other foods alongside your milk of choice. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the consumption of breastmilk up to the age of two and beyond. Weaning to solids usually happens one of two ways – either by making purées of a variety of foods or by a method known as baby-led weaning which involves giving the baby the same food as the parent is eating in a finger food form. Where possible, opt for organic foods as these are more nutrient-rich and are grown and processed without harmful chemicals. Purées are best made yourself so that you know exactly what is in them, though there are a wide variety of organic purees on the market for times when convenience is a requirement. Start with a small number of foods and gradually build up to more. Remember that vegetables are naturally lower in sugar than fruits and don’t add salt to food for your baby or toddler.”

Baby no-nos

“Babies up to the age of six months should not have anything other than milk,” says Sian Eustace. “Once they start eating food avoid giving them processed foods which are too high in salt and sugar. Avoid refined sugars, salty foods and foods to which you may be allergic to as the parent. Babies should not eat honey until at least the age of one and should not have foods containing caffeine.”

“Avoid first time foods that are too hard, big or that babies might have difficulty breaking down in the mouth,” says Helena Murphy. “They are only learning something we take for granted. This will avoid possible choking.”

“You should avoid giving them foods that are high in salt or sugar, nuts, low fat foods or foods that are high in saturated fat, raw eggs or raw shellfish,” says Angela McGlanaghey.

Fussy eaters

“If you feel your baby is not getting enough nutrients try and encourage them gently to try new things,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Stay patient with them and don’t make a fuss if they push food away. Keep trying to encourage them to eat healthy foods. Seek a dietician or a doctor’s advice if you think the nutritional deficiency is a valid concern.”

“If you start by providing a wide variety of healthy foods, it is unlikely that your child will become fussy at such a young age (though many children do go through a fussy stage at a slightly older age),” says Sian Eustace. “Think about presentation of the foods – could you make a rainbow of chopped raw vegetables and fruits? If they eat pasta with sauce, why not blend a range of vegetables into the sauce so that they are getting a wider variety. You could also make smoothies with vegetables blended in as well as fruit.”

“If your child is very fussy try making food fun,” says Helena Murphy. “Funny faces, finger foods, don’t make eating a struggle or a battle. If they want to eat with their hands let them, the main thing is they are eating. If you feel like your child still might not be getting enough nutrition pop into your local health food store and see if there is something extra that can be added to their diet.”

Lead by example

“It’s important to lead by example when introducing babies to food, so you should show them how to eat, and encourage them to learn for themselves as they get older and their motor skills develop,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Encourage them to try something more than once so that their tastebuds will get used to it.”

“Start as you mean to go on and encourage any other people who provide food for your child to do the same,” says Sian Eustace. “Babies and toddlers will not ask for sweet foods if they have never been given them. This becomes harder once they go to preschool and school but, whilst they are in your care alone, it is possible to leave out less healthy options altogether and this helps the child develop a taste for less sweet, and healthier foods.”

“If your lifestyle is hectic put home-made food in airtight containers or freeze for later, this way you know exactly what your child is eating,” says Helena Murphy. “Young children are very curious and love to pick up, feel and try new foods. You can also allow them to try new foods from your plate if you’re eating a healthy meal.”

Baby bodycare

“The simplest rule of thumb is that, if you don’t understand what something in the ingredient list is, don’t put it on baby’s skin,” says Sian Eustace. “However, in reality, this can be tricky as sometimes ingredients lists contain Latin names for essential oils which are not problematic at all. Some key ingredients to avoid are sodium laureth sulphate and sodium lauryl sulphate (sometimes abbreviated to SLS and SLES), parabens and pthalates. There are many organic baby bodycare products on the market these days so that you can find chemical-free versions of everything from shampoo to bodywash, bubblebath and nappy cream.”

“You should avoid using harsh chemicals or heavily scented products on your baby or toddler,” says Angela McGlanaghey. “Stick to natural skin and bodycare ranges and keep it simple. Use unscented products free from harsh chemicals and use sparingly.”

“When it comes to bodycare avoid chemical, parabens and synthetic ingredients,” says Helena Murphy. “Children have such lovely skin it’s such a shame to ruin it. Go for skincare with natural ingredients like plant extracts and oils, not tested on animals and that is safe for children.”

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