Plenty of TV programmes and books nowadays tell us ‘we are what we eat’ and indeed it’s crucial that your baby and growing child has a well-rounded diet
Research has revealed that a well nourished baby is a happy baby who thrives by growing and developing at a steady rate.
But it can be tricky to identify the kinds of foods that your child should be consuming at various stages of development. Even if you provide a healthy, balanced diet, we reveal how there are a number of specific vitamins and minerals that your child will need in order to reach their fullest potential.
What your baby needs: It’s well known that your baby needs adequate supplies of calcium to make sure her bones grow properly (called bone ‘calcification’). But did you know magnesium is also vital too? Magnesium is essential for binding calcium to teeth and bones.
Vitamin D is also crucial, as without this vitamin the body cannot absorb calcium. Vitamin D is mostly derived mainly from the sun’s rays – you should be aiming for about 15 minutes in the sun a few times a week but you can also get some through foods.
Foods to eat for strong bones: Spinach, broccoli, tofu, popcorn and whole wheat cereals. Oily fish such as tuna or salmon, fortified breakfast cereal or fortified orange juice are good sources of vitamin D.
What your baby needs: Healthy gums mean healthy teeth and one of the most important vitamins for promoting healthy gums is vitamin C.
Calcium is, of course, another crucial nutrient for teeth development.
Foods to eat for healthy teeth: Fruit and vegetables, particularly broccoli, peppers, strawberries and oranges. Good sources of calcium include yoghurt, cheese and sardines, and don’t forget to include vitamin D rich foods along with your child’s calcium intake.
What your baby needs: Every parent wants their baby to grow thick, glossy hair and one of the best ways to achieve this is by making sure that they get plenty of beta carotene in their diet.
Because vitamin E is responsible for healthy skin and nails, it’s also the main nutrient for healthy hair, nerve and cell structures.
Foods to eat for glossy hair: Find beta carotene in hearty vegetable stews made with carrots and sweet potato, and bake pumpkin and butternut squash into cakes and muffins. Wholegrain cereals or oats, avocados, tomatoes and brown rice are great for vitamin E.
What your baby needs: One of the most important nutrients for promoting good eye sight in babies and young children is DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid. Vitamin A is also essential for promoting healthy eyesight in babies, and infants who are deficient in this nutrient have decreased immunity and are more likely to develop anaemia.
Foods and drinks for sharp eyesight: While abundant in breast milk, many formula milks do not contain DHA, so if your baby is younger than six months and is not being breastfed it’s worth looking for a brand with this nutrient added. Good food sources of DHA include salmon and ground flax seeds. Vitamin A can be found in food in two different forms – pre-formed vitamin A (retinol) or pro-vitamin A (beta carotene), and good sources include liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes and spinach.
Powerful muscle tone
What your baby needs: As your baby becomes mobile and moves from standing to walking, you’ll notice a marked increase in the strength of her muscles. Vitamin E is the most important nutrient required by the body for adequate muscle tone and it works by helping musclesand other tissues to form.
Another important nutrient for the development of muscle co-ordination is thiamine vitamin B. This vitamin, which forms part of the B group of vitamins, is water soluble and cannot be stored in the body. Therefore it’s important that you provide your child with lots of vitamin B rich foods. Phosphorous and potassium are also both crucial to the development of healthy muscle tissue.
Foods for powerful muscle tone: Wholegrain breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables while good sources of phosphorus are chicken breast, milk, lentils and egg yolks and in bananas, orange juice, green beans, mushrooms, oranges, and broccoli for potassium.
Vitamins: what to watch out for
- Low levels after illnesses
After an illness, such as a flu bug or a tummy upset, many children struggle to eat a varied diet and may require additional vitamin supplements in order to get back to full health. Ask your GP for advice on the kind of supplement that may be suitable for your child.
- Vegetarian or other restricted diets
Children who follow vegetarian, vegan, or dairy free diets may need extra iron, zinc, vitamin B, and calcium in their diets. Again check with your health visitor or GP first.
- Give the correct level of vitamins
If giving your baby vitamin supplements, choose those that are specially formulated for babies, which will include moderate and not excessive levels. Because vitamin A is fat soluble, and cannot be flushed out by the liver if taken in excess, large amounts can be very harmful to the body. Iron is also dangerous when taken in excessive amounts, so make sure you carefully follow dosage instructions before giving vitamin supplements and always keep all vitamin tablets out of your child’s reach.