When your baby moves on to solids, it’s common to stress over whether they are getting enough nutrients in their diet. You can send yourself mad analysing how much they actually got in their mouth as opposed to what ends up on their clothes and on the floor.
In the early months of starting solids, it’s really more about getting your baby used to the process of eating and trying flavours and textures. They will still get the majority of their nutrients from breast milk or formula at this stage. However, as they get older they will need to start getting these from their diet.
It’s important not to stress – as long as you are offering your baby a variety of healthy, nutritious meals, chances are they will be getting what they need. But it can also be helpful to have a list of nutrient-dense foods in your arsenal to plan their meals around.
Iron and protein are two of the most important nutrients and you will hear people talking a lot about them. But what foods are actually high in these?
The importance of protein for babies and toddlers
For your child to grow and develop properly, protein is a must. High protein foods get essential amino acids into your baby or toddler which help to build and repair everything from muscles to tissue, skin, nails and hair. Amino acids also support a healthy immune system, produce hormones, sustain a normal digestive system and, importantly, provide an energy source for your lively little one.
How much protein do babies and toddler’s need?
If your baby is still on breastfeeding, they’ll be getting all the protein they need (and the right boost of amino acids) through the breast milk. So follow a healthy feeding schedule, and they’ll be sorted. But once your little one is munching on solid foods, it’s good to stay mindful of how to get the right amount of protein in their baby food.
For a toddler aged 1-3 years, their average daily protein intake should sit at around 14g. Though, instead of worrying about getting the exact amount, it’s encouraged to just find one source of protein for each meal. Not sure about the best protein rich foods for babies or toddlers? Here’s a list of 9 of our favourites.
The 9 best protein-rich foods for your child
1. Red meat
Beef, lamb and pork are high in iron and protein and can be easily adaptable into any foods you’re eating yourself. Mashed or shredded meat (bonus points if you have a food processor) is easier for your baby to chew and swallow in those early months. Add a little bit of water or even add pureed meat to mashed sweet potato or pumpkin to ease your baby into eating it. Buy lean cuts of meat – fatty cuts are not recommended for babies. For a toddler, they’ll be able to eat ground beef in easy-to-eat pieces like little shapes like balls or logs.
2. Poultry and fish
Chicken, turkey and fish are also great for your baby or toddler’s growth; they provide nutrients and proteins that are critical to your child’s development. Make sure they are cooked without salt or soy sauce (or any added preservatives). Boiled, softened or shredded chicken is ideal. Fish is also a great option but be careful to remove any bones as a swallowed bone can cause a perforation in the stomach.
Eggs are high in both iron and protein, making them a perfect snack or meal for your baby or toddler.
Beans, lentils and other types of legumes are great plant-based alternatives to meat if you’re following a vegetarian diet. They’re all rich in iron and protein and can be added to meat for more nutrients. Make sure they’re mashed, soft and easy to chew. Be aware of choking and always monitor your baby when it’s mealtime.
5. Leafy green vegetables
Leafy green vegetables (e.g. spinach and kale) are also really good for their diet as they’re rich in fibre and iron.
High-fibre cereals with no added preservatives, sugar or extras are ideal for your baby – rice cereals or single-grain cereals are great starters. If your baby is less than a year old, add water to create a porridge consistency which is easier for them to swallow.
Pairing iron-rich foods with fruits that are high in vitamin C, such as tomatoes, oranges or kiwi fruit, helps to absorb the iron making it a double dose of goodness! Pureed fruit always a hit for babies, and a great way to make protein a bit more colourful and fun.
Plain greek yogurt is great for your toddler or baby’s growth and will give them something light after a meal. Make sure you opt for the plain variety without any sugar. You can always add fruit for flavour and sweetness. And since milk is still a great source of protein, you’ll find that whole milk greek yogurt covers even more bases.
9. Peanut and other nut butters
It’s now recommended to introduce babies to peanut butter early if they are not considered a high allergy risk. So providing there are no peanut allergy concerns, peanut butter (and other nut butters) are a great way of getting protein into your baby (plus plenty of healthy fats). And the great thing is, both babies and toddlers usually love them!
Just make sure you’re opting for a low-sugar, low-sodium variety. Spreading peanut butter on a piece of softened toast or a small amount on some fruit is perfect. But make sure you don’t give your baby whole nuts as their food as this can be a choking hazard.
Can a vegetarian diet cause protein deficiency in children?
If you want your baby or toddler to follow a vegetarian diet, it’s important to consult your doctor or a paediatric dietician to make sure you can still meet their protein needs. You can substitute animal products with protein rich foods like beans and other legumes, but it’s worth working out a nutritious diet with a professional to ensure your baby can still grow and develop healthily.
Your baby will benefit from a balanced diet; implementing these foods will provide them with more iron and protein, which is vital for their growth and development. Remember to have fun with food and don’t stress too much as your baby will pick up on that and be stressed too!
*Foods should always be prepared and served in accordance with your baby’s age and developmental stage.