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How much food do babies need?

In this video, Dr Katie Lacy describes why providing small amounts of a variety of nutrient-dense foods to infants is important.
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KATIE LACY: Making the transition from a diet of only breast milk or infant formula to a diet that includes food is a gradual one. At first, an infant may only eat one to two teaspoons of a new food, but as they gain more experience with food, they’ll naturally increase this amount. Hello, I’m Dr. Katie Lacy, senior lecturer in nutritional science at Deakin University. Let’s take a look at some suggested amounts of different foods an infant may eat by the time they turn 12 months old. These amounts will vary from infant to infant, but let’s use the following as an example.
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You can see from the small quantities here that the total amount of food an infant needs is very small indeed. From 6 to 12 months, an infant’s skill in managing foods changes dramatically, which means that the food textures and amounts they can handle will change, too. Because infants have small stomachs, to meet their nutritional needs, they need to eat meals and snacks throughout the day and eat small amounts of nutrient-dense foods. By nutrient-dense foods, we mean foods that are packed full of nutrients. For example, a slice of whole grain bread with nut paste is a fantastic source of vitamin E and also a good source of other nutrients like niacin and magnesium.
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It’s also a more nutrient-dense choice compared with something like a scone with butter or sweet biscuits, which would not be great sources of these nutrients. Similarly, banana is a better source of fibre compared with fruit juice, and brown rice is a better source of fibre, zinc, and vitamin B6 compared with white rice. Likewise, iron-fortified infant cereals are really important sources of iron. So while it might be tempting to offer porridge for breakfast, porridge actually contains very little iron, which doesn’t make it a suitable replacement for fortified infant cereal. When it comes to fluids, breast milk or infant formula should be the main drink provided to an infant.
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Cow’s milk should not be provided as a drink because the infant may become too full to drink enough breast milk or formula. Cow’s milk should only be given to an infant in small amounts in foods. From 12 months onwards, it can be introduced as a drink in a cup. So when it comes to working out how much to feed an infant, it’s important to provide foods that are rich in nutrients instead of foods that are filling, but provide little or poor nutrition. The actual quantities offered will depend on the food, the child’s development, and their familiarity with the food. Providing a variety of foods to infants is also vital so that they experience a range of tastes, textures, and colours.
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These early experiences with many different foods will help the infant to accept and learn to like a range of foods.
Breastmilk or infant formula are the key sources of nutrients for a young infant but these foods will progressively be replaced by family foods from around six to 12 months of age.
During this time, a healthy diet for an infant should:
  • meet the infant’s individual nutritional needs for their growth and activity level, as indicated by healthy weight gain and development
  • contain breastmilk or infant formula
  • include a variety of foods from meal-to-meal and day-to-day with an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods, particularly those rich in iron.
In terms of food quantities, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council dietary guidelines recommend the following food quantities for infants aged seven to 12 months.
Food*Serve sizeServes a dayServes a week
Vegetables and legumes/beans20g1½–210–14
Fruit20g½3–4
Grain (cereal) foods40g bread equivalent10
Infant cereal (dried)20g17
Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, legumes/beans30g17
Breast milk or formula600ml17
Yoghurt/cheese or alternatives20ml yoghurt or 10g cheese½3–4
* An allowance for unsaturated spreads or oils or nut/seed paste of ½ serve (4–15g) per day is included, however whole nuts and seeds are not recommended at this age because they may cause choking.
(Source: National Health and Medical Research Council, 2013, p. 44) (CC BY 4.0)
In this video, Dr Katie Lacy describes the importance of providing small amounts of a variety of nutrient-dense foods to infants to help them to accept and learn to like a range of nutritious foods.

Your task

Watch the video and, in the comments, describe an infant’s typical daily eating pattern in your culture. For example, in Australia, it’s common for children to eat three meals and three snacks across the day.
Also, how do you know how much food to offer and when to stop? Discuss your thoughts with other learners.

Reference

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Eat for health. Australian dietary guidelines summary. Canberra: NHMRC.
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Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

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