Baby Nutritional Requirements

Your baby needs to have a balanced diet in order to continue to develop and grow. Below is a brief overview of infant and toddler nutritional requirements. Daily intake amounts are guidelines for what a child should intake.

Newborn Baby Nutrition

From birth to six months breast milk or infant formula gives babies all the nourishment they need to develop and grow.

Breastfeeding

Breast milk:
  • helps your baby grow
  • helps prevent infections and helps babies recover more quickly if they get ill
  • reduces the chance of babies getting tummy upsets or constipation
  • Breastfeeding means there are no feeds to prepare and no bottles to wash and sterilise

There is increasing evidence that breastfeeding is beneficial for a baby's health and development both short and long term. There is also evidence that breastfeeding is better for the mother's health too.

When to start breastfeeding

If you decide to breast feed, it is best to start straight away and not to give any bottles to your baby in early weeks. Giving bottles too soon can make it harder for mothers and their baby to get used to breastfeeding and using formula will reduce the amount of breast milk a mother makes.

Starting to breast feed immediately is best as it is harder to start once your baby has fed from a bottle. Also your baby will get the benefit of your colostrum (the milk produced in the first few days after birth.) This boosts the baby's immune system.

How long to breastfeed for?

Babies require only breast milk (or formula milk) until they are six months (26 weeks) old. At around six months babies begin to need solids to suppliment breast milk, but breast milk is still be important for a baby. Mothers can continue breastfeeding in addition to giving solids for as long as they and the baby want to.

Using infant formula

If you are mixing breastfeeding and bottlefeeding, or you're not breastfeeding, infant formula is the only alternative to breast milk for the first 12 months.

Generally infant formula is made from cows' milk. This is treated to make it similar to breast milk. Follow-on formula is not suitable for babies under six months

Milks based on goats' milk protein are not approved for use by the European Food Safety Authority for babies under a year old, so avoid using these for your baby. Only use soya-based infant formulas if you have been advised to by your GP.

6 month old dietary needs

Solid foods become an increasingly important source of energy and nutrition for you baby as they become more adventurous with their eating.

From 6 months of age, babies are becoming more active and need more energy. The nutritional balance of their diet also changes. Babies under 12 months need a higher fat diet than adults in order to support their rapid growth and physical development.

Between 6 and 12 months old, you child's nutritional requirements:

  • Breast milk or a minimum of 500-600ml of follow-on formula milk.
  • Include starchy foods, such as pasta, rice, potato, bread or baby cereal as part of their meals.
  • Give your infant one or two servings of: soft-cooked meat, e.g. stewed or braised, fish, hard-boiled egg, tofu or pulses (beans or lentils) every day. Red meat such as beef, lamb and pork, is an excellent source of iron. The store of iron they were born will have been used so more is required in their diet.
  • Serve fruit or vegetables at two or more meals every day. Try to include fruit and veg which are high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, peppers and strawberries. Vitamin C helps your baby absorb iron.
  • Health visitors advise that if you are breast feeding a baby of six months and over, you should also give them baby vitamin drops.

12 months (1 year old) plus food and nutritional requirements

From 12 months old, most babies are very active and require sufficient nutrients to give them sufficient energy.

Like adults, children need a balanced diet with a good variety of foods. Due to the speed with which they are growing, children of this age need more fat and less fibre than larger children and adults. In fact children need more calories in each mouthful at this age than an adult does.

Due to their size, they only have a small stomach so cannot manage large portions. From 12months onwards, their diet should consist of three small, nutrition filled meals a day, plus healthy snacks between.

Suitable foods

Each day your child needs a combination of the following 5 food groups:

  • Milk and dairy foods. Although less is required, about 350ml per day of milk or dairy products such as cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are an important source of calcium and energy. Give three servings a day and use full-fat milk until your baby is at least two.
  • Starchy foods like bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals. Try to serve one with each meal and perhaps at snack times too. You can give some wholegrain varieties such as brown rice and brown bread, but not too often. They are high in fibre, so fill your toddler up too quickly without providing enough calories.
  • Fruit and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and fruit juice are all fine. Serve at each meal and aim for five small servings per day. A serving is about a toddler-sized handful (approx 40g).
  • Meat, fish and alternatives, including poultry, hard boiled eggs, nuts or pulses. These are all good sources of protein and iron - essential for healthy growth. Give one or two servings a day for non-vegetarians or two or three servings a day, with a high vitamin C food, for vegetarians. Do not to give whole nuts to children under five as they can cause choking.
  • Foods high in fat and sugar. This includes oils, butter, margarine, ice cream, cakes, biscuits, sweets and sweetened drinks. High calorie and sugary foods must be given with, but not instead of, foods from the other 4 groups. Too much sugar or fat increases the risk of tooth decay and obesity so be careful in limiting how often these are offered.

Toddler nutritional needs

Just like adults, toddlers require food for energy and nutrients like carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to help them grow properly and to maintain their active lifestyles. Toddlers are growing very rapidly and spend most of their waking hours being highly active. They need a regular supply of energy in the form of calories and nutrients. The challenge is to provide a healthy, varied and balanced diet to provide all of the nutrients that your toddler needs.

Toddler daily food requirements

Try to include these types of food every day:

  • Fruit and vegetables - provide fibre, vitamin C and other beneficial vitamins and minerals.
  • Milk and diary foods - provide calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and fat.
  • Meat, fish, eggs peas, beans, tofu, lentils - provide nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. Boys can have up to 4 portions of oily fish each week, but girls should have no more than two portions.
  • Bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals with vitamins, sweet potatoes (yams), potatoes - starchy foods provide calories, vitamins, fibre and minerals.

Can our toddler eat the same food as us?

Toddlers can eat the same food as adults with some careful meal planning. Under two years old, children cannot eat large amounts of food at one sitting and should not have a diet that is either low in fat or high in fibre.

For children under 2 years old it is very important to give meals and snacks packed with calories and nutrients (sometimes called "nutrient-dense foods") such as:

  • full-fat milk and dairy foods
  • meat
  • eggs

Their diet should also contain a variety of fruit, vegetables and starchy foods too.

High-fibre starch rich foods like wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta or brown rice can be introduced gradually. A high-fibre diet is more bulky, meaning your child could quickly become full and not get all the energy they need. Too much fibre can sometimes reduce the amount of minerals a child absorbs such as calcium and iron.

Small children dietary requirements

Between the ages of two and five years old, children can make a gradual move to eating the same food as the rest of the family. This food is generally lower in fat and higher in fibre. By five years old, young children should be eating family meals, but ensure that the food does not contain too much sugar, salt or saturated fat.

Food allergy

If your child is allergic to certain foods, this site allows you to search for recipes which do not contain certain food types like dairy (milk, cheese etc), egg, nuts and other common allergy causes. For more information on childhood food allergies, please see our baby weaning food allergy information and advice page