‘Breast milk is best’. You must have heard this advice from your pediatrician, dietitian or mother. This is true for the first 6 months for your baby when breast milk alone is enough. However, at 180 days breast milk alone cannot meet the nutritional needs of your growing baby. Hence, at 6 months, complementary foods are essential to provide for the increasing nutritional requirements of your baby. Which then brings us to the question, “What are the best foods for a 6-month baby?”
Let us first understand what the nutritional requirements or Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) are for 6-12 months of age. The National Institute of Nutrition at Hyderabad has suggested the following RDA for this age group as indicated in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances for 6-12 months of age of major nutrients (Body weight 8.4kg)
|Energy (kcal)||80 kcal/kg/day (672 kcal/day)|
|Protein||1.69 g/kg/day (14.1 g/day)|
|Visible Fat||19 g/day|
|Vitamin A Retinol||350 microgram/day|
|Beta Carotene||2800 microgram/day|
|Vitamin C||25 mg/day|
Don’t be overwhelmed by these figures as we will make it simple. Your baby needs nutrient dense foods which give energy, protein, minerals (calcium, iron and others) and vitamins. We will take each nutrient and explain how you can give the best foods that are rich in that specific nutrient to your baby. So, let’s begin without much ado.
What are Energy Rich Foods?
A 6-month baby needs approximately 672 kcals out of which 200 kcals come from complementary foods and the remaining from breast milk or formula milk. Remember that when complementary foods are introduced breast feeding doesn’t cease. So you need to continue breast feeding your baby on demand and in addition provide complementary foods. But then how can the baby be given additional calories? By providing cereals like rice, wheat; millets like oats, ragi, barley; roots and tubers like potato, carrots, sweet potato. In addition to these, fruits like banana, chikoo are also calorie dense.
Please remember since your baby’s small stomach can hold only 240ml of food at a time providing energy dense foods are important.
Here are 5 ways in which you can increase the energy density of complementary foods:
- Add a teaspoon of fat to the porridge or khichdi. 1 teaspoon of fat gives 45 kcals.
- Mix a spoonful of jaggery to the meal. 1 teaspoon of jaggery gives 20 kcals.
- Use less water while making porridge and add milk or cream instead.
- Add a spoon of milk powder to the porridge after cooking.
- Use malted (sprouted) foods like ragi, wheat to make energy dense porridge.
Which foods provide Protein?
Proteins are needed to build your babies muscles and help him/her grow stronger as well as for building immunity. Here are some foods that are high in protein: Pulses, peas and dals, (mung, tur) nuts, animal foods like eggs, meat, fish, chicken and milk or curds.
So, what are some of the ways you can improve the protein quality or quantity of a dish?
- Combine cereals like rice or millets like ragi, oats or barley with dals.
- Add finely ground nuts to a khichdi or porridge.
- Add ground meat or fish to khichdi
- Finally, mix milk to porridge or curd with khichdi.
What about Calcium rich foods?
Your 6-month baby needs calcium for healthy and strong bones and teeth. Did you know that ragi an organic baby food has three times more calcium than milk? Some of the calcium rich foods that your baby can be given are milk and curds, sesame seeds/til, almonds, fish, green leafy vegetables. You don’t have to make a separate dish, just think of creative ways in which these can be added to your baby’s diet. Add boiled and mashed greens to khichdi, ground sesame seeds to oats or ragi porridge, milk to porridge or curd to khichdi. The combinations are innumerable to introduce your 6-month baby to a variety of foods.
What are some Iron rich foods for the 6-month baby?
Till 6 months of age iron stored in your baby’s body are adequate. However, after 6 months iron needs to be provided in complementary foods or the baby can have iron deficiency anemia. Breast milk too is not rich in iron although whatever iron it has is absorbed well by the body.
Here is a quick question. Are vegetarian or non- vegetarian foods better for meeting your baby’s iron needs? No, don’t scroll down to find the answer. Think or try and guess.
More than vegetarian foods the iron in non- vegetarian foods is better absorbed by your baby’s body because it is in the haeme form. So, you can plan to add some boiled liver, ground meat to your baby’s khichdi. But what if your child is a vegetarian? No worries, how about adding some boiled and pureed green leafy vegetables like amaranth, mint to the khichdi. Use Amaranth or bajra flour which have iron to make porridge.
What are some of the Vitamin A rich foods?
For healthy eyes and skin as well as to fight infections, your baby needs vitamin A which is available from foods in two forms – as retinol in animal foods and as beta carotene- a yellow orange pigment. So what yellow orange foods come to your mind? Carrot, pumpkin, tomato, mango, papaya are all good sources of vitamin A. Easiest way to provide vitamin A nutrition to your baby is to add a tablespoon of boiled and pureed vegetables as well as pureed fruits to khichdi or porridge to increase its vitamin A content. In addition, you can also add a spoonful of boiled and pureed dark green leafy vegetables like palak, methi, amaranth to the dish. A spoonful of butter and ghee which are retinol rich increases the nutrition further. The yolk of an egg or some liver can also be given to the baby.
What are some of the Vitamin C rich foods that are good for babies?
Vitamin C helps in the absorption of iron by the body, supports the baby’s immune system and helps in wound healing. Citrus fruits like orange, mosambi, strawberries, mango, papaya, vegetables like tomatoes and greens like coriander leaves, spinach are what can be easily given to children either by themselves or can be pureed and added to the dish.
The following food square summarizes how best a wholesome meal can be given to your 6-month baby to help it meet her nutrient requirements. Continue breast feeding beyond six months of age. Initially introduce only one food at a time. Later, combine foods by choosing one food from each of the food squares to make wholesome complementary food.
To summarize, offering a variety of foods will expose your baby’s palate to different foods, tastes and textures and as a result, your baby will not only relish diverse foods but also get the best of nutrition.