Child nutrition – fact or fiction?

We put six common beliefs to the test.

1.    There is only one way to start solids - False
Convention has it that babies should start solid foods at the 6 month mark with rice cereal, then slowly introduce bland, pureed vegetables followed by fruit.

But there is also no reason for first meals to food to be bland– many cultures introduce herbs and mild spices to babies at a young age to gradually increase their tolerance. It is also important to introduce meat at an early stage of solids to prevent anaemia.

While many parents think purees are the only option, introducing lumpy and firm food within weeks is essential to healthy development. Learning to chew - either with teeth or gums - strengthens the jaw muscles and helps with the development of speech.

Some parents practice an approach known as ‘baby led weaning’, which is another term for letting an infant self-feed using their hands. Some foods to try if you are following this approach include steamed carrots, cut up cucumbers, toast fingers or crinkle-cut soft fruit.

2.    Children need full fat milk – true and false
Milk is a child's most important food in the first year of life and is still very important in the following few years. Milk is rich in calcium which is important for growing bones and teeth; and calcium is more easily taken into the body from milk than from vegetable foods.

Children under 12 months of age should have breast milk or formula for their main drinks.
Once a child moves on to cow’s milk however, the Australian Children, Youth and Women’s health service recommends to:

•    Give full cream milk to children between 1 and 2 years of age. Whole milk has 4% fat.
•    Give low fat (reduced fat) to children over 2 years of age as they do not need full cream milk. Low fat milk has 1 to 2% fat.
•    Not give skim milk ('99.9% fat free') to children under 5 years old.

3.    Fish is brain food – true
The saying that fish is good for the brain comes from relatively recent discoveries about the nutritional qualities of omega 3 fatty acids, which are in abundance in oily fish.

Two of the fatty acids, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) are particularly vital to brain development as DHA fats make up over 30 percent of our brains and both DHA and EPA make up over 70 percent of a newborn's brain and nervous system.

Recent studies have shown that pregnant women and children are 85 percent of pregnant women are not getting enough omega 3 fatty acids in their diets.

Keeping proper amounts of DHA in the body is meant to contribute to maintaining your baby's brain health, improving its eyesight, and helping its verbal skills. It also reduces the risk of premature birth, making for a healthy mother and baby.
For children who don’t like fish, omega 3 supplements or flaxseed oil may be used as an alternative. TIP

4.    Fresh is best - false
Some families find that the household budget just doesn’t stretch to fresh vegetables – let alone organic. But it seems many frozen vegies are just as nutritious, or in some cases even more nutritious, than fresh ones. Frozen vegetables are usually processed within hours of picking and few nutrients are lost in the freezing process, therefore they keep their high vitamin and mineral content. Another way to preserve the vitamin content of vegetables is to steam them rather than boil them, which leaches nutrients.

5.    ‘Bad’ food should be kept out of reach – false

With child obesity a growing concern, many parents place unhealthy snacks under lock and key, doling out biscuits and chips in carefully metered amounts. A large body of research challenges this approach, showing instead that if a parent restricts a food, children just want it more. Other studies show that children whose food is highly restricted at home are far more likely to binge when they have access to forbidden foods.
So instead of worrying about calories, try binning the snacks and creating a healthy pantry and fridge and give children free access to make their own choices.

6.    Breastfeeding prevents ear infections – true

Ear infections are one of the major reason that infants take antibiotics, which may weaken their immune system.

However, researchers from the State University of New York's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences have found that exclusively breastfed infants have a decreased risk of otitis media (middle ear infections), in a study published in October 1997.

Ear infections are common in all children, but the researchers found that the incidence of first ear infections for infants between six and 12 months of age increased from 25 percent to 51 percent for those exclusively breastfed.  The incidence for formula-fed infants of the same age increased from 54 percent to 76 percent.

The researchers found that formula-feeding was the most significant predictor of inner ear infections, although the amount of time spent at day care was also a risk factor.
The ultimate conclusion made by the researchers was that breastfeeding, even for short durations (three months) reduced the onset of otitis media episodes in infancy.