Excluding certain foods from our diet, for whichever reason, has become the new norm, but how does this impact your child’s nutrition? Paulette Crowley asks the experts.
Health, preference, allergies, intolerances, the environment… There are many valid reasons why you might choose to eliminate a food group from your diet, but it’s important to realise these might not apply to your child.
Although healthy eating does have the same building blocks for everyone, such as fresh fruit and veges, the nutritional needs of your baby and toddler can be quite different from your own, explains registered nutritionist Emily Hope.
Eating well means making sure most food groups are included in a baby’s diet, once they’re established on solid foods. This might seem straightforward, until one or more of those food groups suddenly stops being served at family meals because mum or dad are avoiding them.
When people go gluten-free, they will avoid wheat and oat-based breads and cereals, which are important sources of nutrients for hungry children who tolerate them well, Emily says.
But although a piece of toast may give you a belly ache or worse, bread does contain folate, other B vitamins and fibre. “If you remove those from a child’s diet and don’t replace them, they can miss out on key nutrients.”
The B vitamin folate is considered so important that commercial breads are fortified with it in this country. If the diet is balanced, baby will get it from other sources, such as leafy greens, citrus, yeast, liver and legumes, but a simple way to give them a good dose of folate is with toast soldiers or a sandwich, Emily says.
The easiest approach is to serve bread and cereals to your little one regardless of whether you eat them, which is what Emily does with her one-year-old daughter, Isabella. A diagnosed celiac herself, Emily adheres to a strict gluten- free diet to stay healthy but will often feed her baby gluten-containing products to cover both of their nutritional bases.
“In the mornings, I’ll have my sourdough gluten-free bread, and pop her normal toast on. We both have our toast with almond butter and banana.”
Also, Emily will give Isabella the rice-based porridge she eats but if her husband is making the brekkie, he’ll share his traditional oat-based breakfast with her.
When the family’s evening meal is pasta based, Emily will use a gluten-free variety that everyone can eat to avoid making two pasta dishes.
“But when we have pizza, often one won’t do the whole family, so my husband and the little one share a ‘normal’ pizza and I have mine with a gluten-free base.”
Kids need carbs
Energy is also another really important aspect of eating breads and cereals, says Emily.
“It’s really important that kids have a source of carbohydrate – they’re not like adults. Their energy needs are high, so they need to eat well across the day because their tummies are small.”
Breakfast is a key time to offer your little one a slow- release carbohydrate, such as toast or cereal.
“But if mum no longer has oats because they contain gluten, a rice-based porridge would still provide that child with some long-lasting energy.”
Dairy and nutrition
Many people are now choosing plant-based milks over dairy because of lactose intolerance, allergies or due to ethical concerns. However, it’s important to remember most people can easily tolerate dairy products and parents should seriously consider including them in their baby’s diets, Emily says.
“Dairy is super important for kids during a time of rapid growth and development because it’s such a good source of calcium. Most of the calcium comes from milk in New Zealand – and we know that most kids are not getting enough calcium.”
As babies and children are developing, they use lots of calcium to make their teeth and bones. “We have until we’re about 30 to lay down what we call our peak bone mass – the greatest amount of bone we’ll ever have.”
Calcium is available from other foods, such as chickpeas, canned fish with bones, broccoli, sesame seeds, dried figs and Chinese cabbage, but dairy packs a punch with how much it offers.
“You have to eat a lot of those foods to get the amount of calcium of a couple of slices of cheese or a bit of yoghurt,” says Emily. “For example, one cup of milk has about 400mg calcium in it, depending on the brand, whereas half a cup of broccoli only has about 30mg.”
A diet heavy in non-dairy foods containing calcium can also be problematic for littlies because of the high fibre content leading to tummy upsets and lack of hunger. “They could have a poor energy intake because they’re filling up on these bulky high-fibre foods.Fibre is important but only in small amounts for babies and children. Increase the amount of wholegrain foods with age, along with enough fluid to avoid constipation.”Aside from protein, riboflavin(B2) and vitamin A are also present in dairy products. Riboflavin is important for cellular health and vitamin A for eye health and immunity.
Serving dairy foods as components that can be added to a family meal or lunch box is a simple approach – it’s easy to serve milk, cheese and yoghurt as snacks or as side dishes to family meals. However, if you really don’t want to serve dairy products, then use products such as almond milk that has been fortified with calcium.
Removing meat, and sometimes chicken and fish, from diets is a choice many people make because of health, cost, ethical or environmental reasons and is nothing new for large populations around the world.
A diet rich in plants is something all nutritionists advocate, Emily says, but care needs to be taken when it comes to getting a vegetarian diet right for littlies.
Making sure your baby has enough iron is a big challenge for all mums, but particularly for those who are feeding their babies a vegetarian diet. “After about six months the iron in your breast milk is negligible, although a baby’s iron needs are very high.”
Fruit and veges are traditional weaning foods for babies, although they contain less iron than meat products. However, it’s known that many vegetarians aren’t iron- deficient as their ability to absorb non-haem iron (from plant-based sources) develops over time and can become very efficient, Emily says.
It’s important to feed your baby a wide range of fresh produce, including legumes as part of a healthy vegetarian diet.
Veganism is also on the rise and can provide a good diet for a growing child, although care needs to be taken with B12 levels. B12 is only naturally available in animal products. Some foods, such as soy milk, can be fortified with B12 and supplements are also useful, under medical advice.
Fruity mini muffins (contain wheat and dairy)
These mini muffins are a great alternative to store-bought biscuits which are normally high in refined sugar and trans fatty acids, and are not beneficial for health when eaten regularly. The fruit contains fibre for a healthy tummy and antioxidants which act to protect the body. Chia seeds are a wonderful source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids for a healthy heart and brain. If you eat gluten-free, you can try swapping the white flour for rice flour or ground almonds and use Edmonds baking powder, which is gluten-free.
Makes about 12 mini muffins
40 grams butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup full fat milk
1-2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup white flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1⁄4 cup blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 160°C.
2. Melt butter and wait for it to cool slightly, before mixing with the egg and milk.
Mini meatballs (contains gluten)
This recipe is a good one for vegetarian parents who are happy to feed their children meat. The meatballs are a good source of iron and can be added to most vegetarian meals, or served as snacks and in lunch boxes. They freeze well.
Makes 15-20 small meatballs
200 grams beef mince
1 teaspoon tomato paste 1 pinch of salt
1 tablespoon rolled oats 1 egg
Flour, for coating
Oil to cook
1 Preheat a large frypan to a medium- low heat.
2.Combine mince, tomato paste, salt, rolled oats and eggs in a bowl. Using your hands, combine the ingredients and roll about 20 meatballs.
3. Add oil to the pan to heat through, coat each meatball lightly in flour.
4. Cook in batches – not overcrowding the pan. Turn the meatballs carefully, so they don’t break apart.
5. Remove from the frypan, cool and place in ziplock bags. Make sure they’re in a flat layer, not touching each other, so they can be taken individually as needed.
6. These can easily be reheated and served with a tomato sauce, or on their own.
This article was first published in Little Treasures magazine, July 2017.