There’s a reason there’s an expression “you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child” – being a parent means worrying! And it’s not something that goes away when your child hits high school, graduates college or even gets married. There’s only so much in our control, so we need to all stop striving for perfection. With that said, read what you may, there’s no one magic food that will turn your baby into Einstein, but there are key things that can be done to help your little one along the way as his or her brain develops.
“The transition from milk to food as the primary source of nutrition happens as a baby nears the first birthday,” says Dr. Natasha Burgert, MD a pediatrician at Pediatric Associates in Overland Park, KS and a consulting physician for Reckitt. “Around the time a baby is 9-12 months old, they learn basic gross and fine motor skills, allowing them to drink from a cup and eat food independently. At this point, most babies begin to prefer eating food to drinking milk. Once this transition happens, food becomes the primary nutritional source and milk becomes a healthy beverage.”
But as this skill develops, most parents experience a practical challenge.
“Toddlers tend to be selective eaters and eat small quantities of nutrient-dense foods. Although it’s normal for a toddler to have picky-eating behaviors, key nutrients required for brain development may be under-consumed,” says Dr. Burgert. “A recently published study in Nutrients revealed a significant percentage of toddlers having inadequacies in iron and DHA, two micronutrients needed for healthy brain growth. Encouraging a diverse diet that includes these nutritional building blocks is one way parents can ensure their toddlers will thrive.”
Dr. Burgert encourages families to offer their babies a wide variety of foods from the first bite. “I want parents to think about foods that contain brain-building iron like spinach, broccoli and kale. Red meats, eggs, turkey and shrimp are iron-containing proteins. DHA is a naturally occurring fatty acid also used for a baby’s brain growth. Human milk, infant formula and certain toddler nutritional drinks all contain DHA.” She goes on to note, however, that recent data shows that for children ages 1-6, the mean intake of DHA was 24 mg/d, significantly lower than the expert recommendations of 70-100 mg/d. “As milk consumption declines with age, parents can fill the gap by offering eggs and fatty fish. I also want families to think about vitamin D because it’s a bone-strengthening hormone that must be triggered by sunlight or ingested,” says Dr. Burgert. “Since many families choose to correctly use sunscreen and shade to protect baby skin, adding vitamin D-containing foods like milk, salmon, fortified cereals and mushrooms will ensure baby’s bone growth is optimal.”