Foods you shouldn’t give to infants

16 March 2016
A baby with pesto over her hands and face

Once you wean your baby, it’s important to give them a healthy diet that contains a range of foods, and in turn, nutrients. But there are some particular foods that it’s best to hold off on until they’re older. I’m a Paediatric Dietitian at the Bupa Cromwell Hospital and I’ve pulled together some examples of these foods.

Hold off on the honey

It’s best not to give children under one any honey. There’s a chance it can contain bacteria that can cause a serious illness called infant botulism. Their immune system isn’t developed enough to cope at this age.

Postpone liver

Meat from the organs of animals, such as liver, is so rich in vitamin A that it’s best not to give this to under-ones. It can build up to toxic levels, but after the age of one they’re fine to eat this.

Safety first

Some foods carry a risk of food poisoning. To be on the safe side, don't give children under one:

  • soft, mould-ripened cheeses, such as brie or camembert
  • raw or undercooked shellfish
  • soft-boiled or raw eggs – cook them until both the white and yolk are solid

Crush nuts

It’s a good idea to hold off on chopped and whole nuts until your child is five, because of the risk of choking. There’s also a risk they may have an allergic reaction to nuts so take care. If you don’t have any family history of allergies, you can give your baby nuts once they're six months old. Just make sure you crush them up or grind them into peanut butter.

Peanut butter on toast

Keep the full fat in dairy

Dairy products are a great source of protein and calcium that are involved in developing healthy bones, so are an important part of your child’s diet. But you’ll need to tailor these to their development. Here are my tips.

  • Only breast milk and formula milk are suitable for babies under one. Cow’s milk isn’t suitable as a drink until after this age, but you can use it in cooking after they’re six months old.
  • Hold off on goat and sheep milk for under-ones. They don't contain the right balance of nutrients for growth and development.
  • Wait until your child is two before giving them semi-skimmed milk and wait a bit longer – until they’re five – to give them skimmed milk. As they’re growing fast at this age they’ll need all those extra calories!
  • If you’re looking to substitute cow’s milk with dairy-free alternatives, such as oat or almond milk, wait until your child is two. Although fortified versions meet calcium requirements, most of them are too low in fat. But you can give them to your child occasionally from one year onwards.
  • The Food Standards Agency doesn’t recommend giving rice milk to children before they’re five.  If your child has a milk allergy or intolerance, get some advice from a health professional, such as your GP or midwife.

Easy on the salt

There’s plenty of hidden salt in processed foods these days, so it’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking food labels, and out of the habit of adding salt to your food. Here are the maximum amounts of salt children should eat (it varies with age):

  • birth to six months: less than 1g
  • seven months to a year: 1g
  • one to three years: 2g

Remember these are the top limits! Ideally aim for less, and this will also help to ensure that your child doesn’t develop a taste for salt. Flavour your food with alternatives to salt, such as herbs and spices.

Salt shaker

Select your fish

Fish like shark, swordfish or marlin can contain mercury, which can affect your child's nervous system. So it’s best not to give these types of fish to babies, toddlers and children right up until the age of 16.

Younger children can eat other types of fish, such as oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. These contain long-chain omega 3s, essential fatty acids that will play a role in their brain development. But limit oily fish to two portions a week for girls and four portions for boys. This is because they can contain low levels of toxins, which can build up over time.

Stay clear of fizzy drinks

These contain whopping amounts of sugar! It’s best to avoid them, as regularly consuming this amount of sugar can lead to tooth decay and obesity.

Encourage your infants to drink water as this really is the best choice. Or choose reduced sugar versions and dilute fruit juices (since they’re high in natural sugar) as an occasional treat. Milk is a great alternative too and will help to meet their calcium needs.

Leave coffee and tea to the adults

Tannins in tea and coffee can interfere with how your child takes in the nutrients in food, so aren’t a good choice. In fact, any caffeinated drink is a bad idea for infants.

Man with phone and coffee

Here at Bupa we understand how important your family is. So with our family health insurance you can rest assured knowing that eligible treatment and support is available for your loved ones when you need it.

Dietitian at Bupa UK

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