Essential Nutritional First Steps

Essential Nutritional First Steps

Here's an excellent guide to help you out with your baby's essential nutritional first steps 

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Foodie  Foodie Your Guide to Good Taste  on 15 Sep '15

This article originally appeared in the latest September issue of Foodie: Cooking with Jamie Oliver. Read it here!

A healthy eating habit plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of physical well-being, and the crucial foundations are laid out during the first 1000 days of life, from the time of conception to when a baby turns two years old. We’ve created a cheat sheet to take the pressure off new parents because, after all, you already have plenty to manage on your plate.

Maternal Nutrition

Growing a human is a miraculous yet tedious job, and expectant mothers are not only eating for themselves, but also for their developing fetuses. However, the term “eating for two” is often taken out of context, as a fetus’ nutritional needs are tiny compared to an adult’s. On average, an additional 300 calories per day is all that’s required to maintain optimal prenatal health during the second trimester, with an increase to 450 calories during the third trimester.

A healthy, balanced diet is all about quality over quantity, as a diet rich in protein, folic acid, iron, vitamin D and calcium is essential to prenatal well-being. Sorry ladies, as much as you might feel that the baby “needs ice cream”, chances are he is better off if you satisfy that snack craving with a handful of omega-rich walnuts instead. We’ve listed a handful of essential nourishments to keep both mama and baby healthy and happy.

The Goodies

Folate is vital for a baby’s brain and neural tube development, and expectant mothers should consume 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid daily. Spinach, asparagus, artichoke, avocado and lentils are rich in folic acid, although supplements are also recommended.

Iron builds hemoglobin that carries oxygen and helps enhance the body’s resistance to stress and illness. Iron is more easily absorbed when taken with vitamin C, so try pairing a citrus with that next serving of red meat or beans.

Calcium is essential for strong bones and teeth, especially for the little one growing rapidly in utero. It also reduces the risk of pregnancy-related high blood pressure and osteoporosis in later life. Expectant mothers should consume 1000 micrograms per day, so load up on almonds, broccoli, and bok choy!

Omega-3 fats are vital for a baby’s brain development, especially during the third trimester and early infancy. Rich sources include oily fish such as salmon and sardines, as well as walnuts and soy.

The Baddies

Saturated fats, which are abundant in chips, fried foods, pastries, and processed foods should be replaced with healthy fats from oily fish, avocado, and nuts. You can always sneak in a few bites of pastry, but just don’t make it a daily donut run!

High sodium foods such as processed meats, sauces, and preserved foods will increase water retention. Instead, enhance food with natural spices such as turmeric, oregano and rosemary.

Sugar is fine when found in naturally occurring sources such as fruits, but can also come in the form of empty calories hidden inside soft drinks, juices and confectionaries. So try to curb the sweet tooth whenever possible!

Fish high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, tuna and king mackerel should be avoided. Instead, munch on trout, salmon and halibut.

Salmonella and listeria are bacterias that could harm a fetus or even cause miscarriages. These bacterias could appear in raw eggs, bean sprouts, unpasteurised dairy, cold cuts and raw seafood.

Alcohol puts a growing fetus at risk for birth defects, although there’s still plenty of debate about light social drinking. Our editors personally think a tipple of wine once a week is more relaxing than worrying.

Infant Nutrition

With a brand new human to take care of, sometimes it’s daunting to even think about where to begin. Luckily, Mother Nature has done most of the planning, as breast milk has been proven to be the healthiest option for newborns. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life, as breast milk provides energy and nutrients tailored to a baby’s developmental needs, as well as immunological components to protect a baby from infections. There’s also increasing evidence that breastfeeding can protect against allergies, as well as lower the risk of obesity, cardiovascular risk, hypertension and insulin resistance later in life.

Introducing Solid Foods

Starting from six months, a baby’s taste buds can expand beyond just milk with complementary, easy to digest foods. Begin with just one to two tablespoons per meal, as food consumption at this point is not so much about meeting a baby’s nutritional needs, since they still get an ample supply of breastmilk or formula, but to stimulate mouth muscle development.

First Foods in the First Year

A variety of nutrient-dense foods not only meets the needs of a growing baby but also expands a baby’s openness to a range of contrasting flavours. After all, these tiny taste buds are the makings of future foodies! We’ve put together a handy guide to help new parents plan baby’s first meals.

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Easy does it - Introduce one food at a time over a period of two to three days to ensure that no allergic reactions or digestive problems occur.

Variety - Meats, fish, eggs, nuts, fruits and vegetables are all game when it comes to baby’s first food. Long gone are the days when rice cereals are the only solutions.

Think dark - Dark meats and dark leafy vegetables are rich sources of iron, a key component to baby’s brain development. Other iron-rich foods include beans, potatoes, tofu, eggs, and whole grains.

Bright colours - Essential in the development of vision and a healthy immune system, vitamin A can be found in brightly coloured vegetables and fruits such as cantaloupes, grapefruits, apricots, peaches, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and winter squash.

Good fats - Healthy omega-rich fats from avocados, nuts, and oily fish are essential to a baby’s growth. There is also a good amount of fat in breast milk, as well as dairy products. However, cow’s milk is recommended for babies after the first year of life as they are not as easily digestible as breast milk.

From nine to twelve months, babies should be given three meals a day, as well as being supplemented by breast milk or formula. Lumpier foods should gradually replace purees at this stage in order to teach babies how to chew.

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What to avoid when Weaning

Salt - Babies under one should consume less than one gram of salt daily, as their kidneys are not yet fully developed. Avoid processed foods as they are usually high in sodium.

Sugar - Excess sugar in foods and drinks can lead to tooth decay, so stick to natural fruits and limit sweet desserts and biscuits.

Honey - Babies under one should stay away from honey due to the potential risk of infantile botulism.

Fish high in mercury - No tuna, swordfish and shark for babies, as the higher mercury content of these predatory fish can negatively affect the development of their nervous systems.

Raw eggs - Only fully cooked eggs should be given to babies to minimise salmonella poisoning.

Turning Picky Eater into Happy Eaters

It’s normal for children to refuse new foods from time to time. Most kids eat enough to keep themselves going, so there is no need for alarm unless the child is clearly dropping in weight or not gaining weight as they develop. We’ve listed some tricks to wiggle your way out of a food face-off with a finicky toddler.

One bite rule - Many foods are acquired tastes, so the more times the child tries it the more likely he or she will enjoy it. Perseverance is key, as it may take as many as 20 times for a child to like a certain flavour!

Age appropriate portion sizes - Keep in mind that tiny stomachs don’t need huge portions and that it’s inevitable that there will be days when a child eats better than other days.

Choices - Similar to baby-led weaning, giving a child simple choices between nutritious options makes them feel in control of what they are eating. Let them feel independent by offering simple food options like apples or oranges, and having them choose.

Routine - Get a good rhythm going and establish regular meal and snack times so that the child is well nourished throughout the day and is hungry when it’s time to eat.

Participation - Just as adults enjoy watching their meals prepared by an open kitchen, children also like to be involved in their food decisions. Including them in the shopping and cooking process can increase their openness about trying different flavours.

Sitting down to eat - At home, it’s preferable to have the child eat only when he or she is seated at the dinner table and away from the television and other distractions. When eating outside the home, have the child sit on a park bench or picnic blanket so that they can focus on what they are eating and understand their hunger and fullness signals.

Be a role model - This is really a case of monkey see monkey do. Children love imitating their parents, so if mom or dad is a picky eater, then the kids will have less confidence in tackling new flavours. It’s all about leading by example!

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Sample Meal Plan for a One Year Old


  • ½ cup of iron-fortified cereal or 1 cooked egg
  • ½ cup of whole milk
  • ½ banana, sliced
  • 2 - 3 sliced strawberries


  • 1 slice of toast
  • 2 tbls of peanut butter or cream cheese
  • ½ cup whole milk


  • ½ sandwich (turkey, chicken, tuna, or egg salad)
  • ½ cup cooked green vegetables
  • ½ cup whole milk


  • 2 - 3 tbls of cut fruits
  • 1 cup whole milk


  • 2 - 3 ounces cooked meat
  • ½ cup cooked vegetables
  • ½ cup pasta, rice or potato
  • ½ cup whole milk




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