Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 10:44 am
As parents, we all want to ensure that our little ones are healthy and thriving. From the minute they’re born, we zone in on their eating and sleeping habits, trying to strike that perfect balance that will lead to optimum wellbeing. While it’s great to be passionate about what we feed our kids, following seemingly healthy diet trends can be dangerous without expert advice, so we asked food experts to weigh in on the latest feeding trends.
The trend: Making your child follow a vegan or vegetarian diet
The truth: “The body needs more than 40 essential nutrients every day in order to function optimally,” says registered dietician Abby Courtenay from Nutritional Solutions in Johannesburg. “When you eliminate certain foods or groups of foods, such as dairy, essential fats, carbohydrates or animal proteins, from a child’s diet, you’re limiting the amounts of nutrients he takes in on a regular basis.
“While it’s not impossible to plan a nutritionally adequate diet after eliminating certain foods, it is more difficult and without proper guidance (from a registered dietician) your child might miss out on key nutrients for growth and development, putting them at risk for malnutrition,” she explains. For instance, an Italian couple made headlines recently after their 14-month old was hospitalised for severe malnutrition. His calcium levels were dangerously low and this exacerbated a heart condition that required immediate surgery. It’s believed that the child’s parents fed him a strict vegan diet. A feeding trend like this can put unnecessary strain on you and your little one, and should only be attempted if there’s a medical reason behind it.
The trend: Choosing goat’s or sheep’s milk rather than cow’s milk for formula
The truth: When it comes to feeding, breast milk is the ideal food for your growing baby, especially in the first year, says Abby. If you’re unable to breastfeed or can’t breastfeed for as long as you’d like to, chat to your doctor or dietician about a suitable replacement feed.
Although you might have overheard other moms talking about organic goat’s milk formula, the truth is, fortified goat’s or sheep’s milk-based formulas aren’t superior to cow’s milk formulas, says Abby. They all contain an array of essential nutrients, but need to be fortified to meet your baby’s needs. “If your baby has been diagnosed with a milk allergy, other animal milks aren’t recommended either, because children with a cow’s milk allergy are likely to have an allergic reaction to goat’s milk, sheep’s milk or other animal milks,” explains Abby. This is because the milk proteins are similar and the body will react in a similar way.
The trend: Baby-led weaning (letting your child feed himself)
The truth: While it’s great to let your little one assert his independence by feeding himself at mealtimes, the baby-led weaning trend should be approached with caution and supervision. Just because your child can chew off a piece of food, like a chunk of raw carrot or apple, doesn’t mean he can chew it down properly, says best-selling author and cook Annabel Karmel. Sometimes children love to store food in their mouths, so always check that there’s no lumpy food left in your child’s mouth after mealtimes, she says.
Annabel’s list of choking-hazard foods for children aged nine to 18 months include:
- Pieces of raw vegetables
- Grapes – peel and cut into quarters first
- Raisins or cranberries – these can get caught in the throat
- Fruit with stones
- Chunks of hard cheese
- Cherry tomatoes
The trend: Serving only green foods to your child
The truth: While there are numerous health benefits linked to green fruits and vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and apples, this feeding trend is not a healthy, balanced approach for a growing baby who needs a variety of nutrients from all the essential food groups. Babies also need to be introduced to a variety of different flavours and textures, especially between the ages of six and 12 months, says Annabel.
“One common thing paediatric dieticians talk about is children who are afraid of mess,” explains Annabel. To combat this, allow your baby to experiment and “mess” with loads of different foods, not just green foods, or a certain type of food.
Some ideal finger foods for older babies include:
- Steamed vegetables such as carrot and broccoli
- Rice cakes
- Cooked pieces of chicken or fish (crumbed or not)
- Mini sandwiches or pita breads with mashed banana, cottage cheese etc.
- Sliced fruit such as pears, paw-paw and strawberries.