Whether she’s kicking about on the play mat, crawling, taking her first steps or mastering the art of running, your baby is always on the go. In the first five years of life, babies and children are growing fast, developing new skills and are constantly active, and that means they need lots of energy and good baby nutrition. As an adult, you’re probably conditioned into thinking that low fat, low calorie foods are the healthiest, but the rules that we eat by don’t apply to young children. They need a diet that’s high in (healthy) carbs, fat and calories to fuel their growth and development.
How much energy does your child need?
It’s hard to quantify exactly how much energy your growing child needs, as it depends on many factors, including her weight, appetite, activity levels and so on. But as a rough guide:
- Before 6 months, babies need approximately 95 kilo calorie per kilogram of body weight, per day.
- From 6 to 12 months, they need approximately 75 kcal per kilogram.
- From 1 to 3 years, they need approximately 980 kcal per day.
Before 6 months, your baby’s entire calorie intake will come from breastmilk or formula alone. Both breastmilk and formula contain around 20 calories per ounce, so a baby weighing 7kg (15lb 6oz) will need around 42oz of milk per day, typically spread out over four or five breast- or bottle-feeds.
From 6 to 12 months, your baby will still get the bulk of her calories and nutrition from milk, and needs to be drinking around one pint (500-600ml) of formula per day, or having regular breastfeeds. At this stage, solids complement her milk intake, rather than replacing it.
After 12 months, solids will overtake milk as the main source of calories and nutrition for your baby. She will now need around half a pint (around 300ml) of milk per day, but the rest of her calorie intake will come from food.
Where does energy come from?
Although babies and young children have high nutritional needs, rather than trying to count up the calories your little one eats on a daily basis, it’s best to concentrate on a varied diet. A balanced diet will meet all her energy requirements, and should include:
These provide energy by being converted to glucose, the form of sugar that is most easily transported around and used by the body. The best sources are bananas, beans, pulses and lentils, pasta, potatoes, porridge, breakfast cereals and sweetcorn.
One portion at every mealtime.
Protein is needed for growth, and is found in foods such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, pulses and lentils.
One or two portions a day.
Our bodies need glucose, or sugar, to supply energy. Glucose is also essential for supplying the brain with energy. Refined sugars (in manmade products like biscuits and chocolate) should be avoided as much as possible, but fruit – fresh, dried, tinned or juiced – is an important source of natural sugar for your child.
Offer fruit as part of each meal, but limit processed sugary foods like biscuits, sweets and cake. Ideally your child should have five portions of fruit and veg per day.
Fat is broken down in the body to provide energy for growth and activity. Unlike adults, children should get up to 40 per cent of their calories from fatty foods, but it’s best to stick to healthy unsaturated fats, rather than saturated fats, which are found in foods like cakes, biscuits, crisps and chips. The best sources of good fats include eggs, cheese, full-fat milk, meat, oily fish and avocado.
Three servings of milk or other dairy products per day, plus small amounts of other fatty foods.
The best foods for energy
To fuel your baby’s growth and development, include these top 10 energy-rich foods in her diet:
- Dried apricots
- Oily fish
- Sweet potato
Foods to avoid
Some of the foods and drinks that we rely on as adults for a quick burst of energy are best avoided for children. Tea, coffee and other caffeinated drinks such as cola are unsuitable as the caffeine can inhibit iron absorption, while sweets, biscuits, cakes and chocolate should be given only in small amounts, as they can encourage unecessary weight gain and dental problems.
On the flip side, you should also avoid giving any products that are marketed as low-fat, low-calorie or diet foods. Not only may these contain artificial sweeteners that have been linked with health and behavioural problems, but they also provide too few calories for a growing child. You can offer small amounts of high-fibre foods, but these can fill your child up without providing enough nutrition, so on the whole, offer white pasta and rice rather than the wholegrain versions. And make sure that when she drinks milk, it’s either full-fat cow’s milk, formula or breastmilk: skimmed and semi-skimmed milk don’t supply enough calories, vitamins or minerals for your little one.
Find out more about baby nutrition.