Now the topic of food portions in young babies (6 months – 1 year) is very close to my heart, as I think most tears in my practice have been cried about my “baby not eating enough”. What is enough for a baby when it comes to food? Is it what the food companies put in a jar/pouch? Is it what as a parent you feel is enough for your child? I can tell you certainly that what is in a jar/pouch is not a portion, so do not worry if your child does not finish this. Also, what you are dishing up in most cases will also not be a right portion for your baby – because this is highly influenced by your own eating habits (we measure our babies portion to what we would eat). It is a myth that for babies < 1 year of age you have a “magical portion size” for all foods, as sometimes a 6 month old baby can be 6 kg and sometimes 4 kg, surely you would not expect them to eat the same?
So what is a portion? Firstly between 6-12 months you are introducing solids and then expanding the variety, whilst milk intake slowly reduces as solid volume goes up. In the initial phase its all about tastes and textures and really ensuring that your child gets exposed to a wide variety of different flavours. Of course as the variety of foods increase, the nutritional contributions of weaning foods also increases. In the vast majority of babies, they have very good appetite and satiety control and generally when they signal hunger they will eat and they will stop when they are not hungry. The ideal feeding style for parents is therefore “responsive feeding” – which means you are listening to your child’s cues and respond with portions sizes according to their hunger. Other feeding styles include indulgent, controlling and neglectful feeding, which all have a negative impact on your baby’s feeding – I will discuss these further when we get to feeding difficulties. Hand in hand with a responsive feeding style goes growth monitoring, if your child grows well, you can be assured that you are getting sufficient energy and protein in, if weight gain is excessive, then they are getting too much. When you have introduced a good variety of foods into your baby’s diet you can start looking at proportions – 1/5 protein, 2/5 carbs and 2/5 vegetables. This will ensure that you have sufficient non-protein energy for the protein to be used for growth and development.
Of course there are always exceptions when it comes to a appetite and satiety. In a small number of young children there can be a disregulation of appetite and satiety where professional help is required. On the other hand when your child is unwell, their food intake is altered and you need to respect that, because as adults when we are unwell we also do not want to eat. Can you imagine somebody sitting in front of you when you have the flu and forcing food down you?!! There are also medical diagnoses that affect appetite and satiety, including non-IgE mediated gastrointestinal food allergies (which I will discuss in another blog entry) and other gastrointestinal diseases. If your baby’s growth drops down centiles you definitely need to speak to a healthcare professional.
Now, for toddlers > 1 year of age there are some portion sizes, which the Infant and Toddler Forum have published and they regularly tweet photos of portion sizes which help put your portions into perspective. Again, a big boy may eat more than recommended portion sizes whereas a petite girl may eat less, so looking at the portions is a great guide, but also take your child’s appetite and satiety into account. I will write more on older children and food intake in future blog entries, as behaviour does set in when they are older so eating can often be a difficult.