Food under 1 is just for fun. Or is it?!

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Under 1 is just for fun

The statement ‘under 1 is just for fun’ refers to babies under 1 year who don’t have an interest in food or are not eating very much. It implies that as long as they are having fun and still consuming adequate milk that there should be no concern nutritionally or otherwise. It is popping up with increasing frequency and I’m often asked about it, so it’s time to put the record straight!

So, is under one just for fun? NO. Food should always be fun (social, interactive, enjoyable and a delight for the senses) but it is not JUST about fun. Please do read on if you want to understand why this statement is a myth of outstanding proportions.

Before we start with some of the reasons that your baby needs to start eating solid foods from approximately six months, let’s take the phrase literally; what happens at 1? Is there a sudden switch so that nutritionally they go from not needing solids to needing them? Do they wake up on their first birthday with totally different nutritional needs? Definitely not, it just doesn’t work like that and here are some of the reasons why…

Food under 1 provides your baby with essential nutrients

A full-term baby is usually born with a good store of nutrients passed on from the mother, but we know that by around 6 months of age the stores of nutrients such as iron are pretty much depleted (for some babies this happens sooner than 6 months).  We also know that the nutrients present in breastmilk and formula are not enough to fully meet the needs of a 6 month old baby so it is therefore crucial that these nutrients are gained from the diet.

Food refusal may be a sign of an underlying issue:

If your baby is not eating, is not at all interested in food, is spitting food out or crying because they don’t want it, it is important that the reasons why that is happening is explored and not just swept under the table with a nonsensical phrase. It is more than likely nothing to be concerned about if your baby takes a while to adjust to eating (it’s a lot for them to learn after all!) but weaning is a time when parents can pick up on feeding issues such as sensory aversions or physiological issues such as food allergies, so trust your intuition (and not the advice of a stranger called Michelle on Facebook who knows nothing about your baby! 😉) If you feel that something is not right seek the advice of a trained professional such as a dietitian or your GP who can refer you on to specialist feeding teams if necessary.

Food under one helps to decrease food neophobia.

What is food neophobia I hear you say?! Food neophobia translates as ‘fear of new foods’ and is one of the reasons many children reach approximately 15-18 months and suddenly become fussy and refusing foods they are not familiar with. This behaviour is widely believed to have developed in humans during our hunter gatherer days as a survival mechanism to keep toddlers safe at a time when they became more inquisitive and mobile and would wander further from the protection of their parents. Avoiding anything new such as unfamiliar berries would have prevented children from poisoning themselves. Now of course it’s just a giant pain for parents when their child will not eat anything unfamiliar but the drive to keep themselves safe can be very strong in many toddlers.

The main way to decrease the impact that food neophobia will have on your toddler’s eating habits if they do go through this phase is to ensure that a wide range of foods are given from the start of weaning. If your child is still not eating at twelve months this opportunity may be greatly diminished.

Food under 1 is for accepting new textures

There is also some evidence for a ‘critical window’ between the start of weaning and approximately 10 months for your baby to explore and accept new textures. Many babies who are still on purees beyond this time find it very difficult to accept textured and lumpy foods as they simply aren’t used to them and this can continue on well into childhood and beyond. If your baby is not eating at all until after their first birthday it is possible that they won’t take to a variety of textures as well as they will not have been exposed to them.

Food under 1 is NOT the responsibility of the baby:

There’s a worrying attitude with BLW  that a baby will magically get all of the nutrients that they need, simply by choosing the foods from their tray. However, this can only happen if parents are putting the right kinds of foods out for their baby and unfortunately, we know that this is often not the case. There are also a percentage of babies that are not physiologically ready or able to reach out and pick up food for themselves at six, seven, maybe even eight months so for these babies the responsibility should go back to the parents to be providing food for them in a way that ensures they are able to eat – ie spoon feeding!

Food under 1 will decrease the risk of developing food allergies

The most recent research into food allergies tells us that exposure to high risk allergy foods such as egg and peanuts before the age of 12 months decreases a baby’s risk of being allergic to that food. So simply put it is important that your baby is eating so that they can be exposed to foods and decrease their risk of food allergies.

And last but not least…

Food under 1 may be ample even when you think it isn’t!

Let’s be clear here, there’s a big difference between a child that is perceived to not be eating very much and a child that is not at all interested in food. It is an unfortunate fact that many families are concerned about their baby not eating enough when in actual fact the baby is eating plenty and meeting all of their nutritional needs.

Our skewed perception of portion size starts very early on. Pouches and jars of baby food (many of them still state from 4 months) often contain around 130g, which for many babies is considerably more than one meal and for some may be up to 4 meals. However, this is not clear from the packaging, so families become concerned that their baby is not eating much when they cannot finish the packet and often resort to tricks (the aeroplane into the mouth anyone?!) to get their child to eat way more than they want or need to.

The most recent infant and toddler forum survey, which highlights the eating habits of children in the UK, showed that 79% of parents (of 1-4 year olds so not directly linked to this age group but it is likely that this issue starts before 1) are offering larger than necessary portion sizes to their children. However, and here’s the most important part: 73% are worried that their children are not eating enough, despite the fact that theyre being overfed! Soooo many of these babies may well be eating plenty, it’s their parents/carers that believe they aren’t.

So there you have it! Food under 1 is about a lot more than just fun, but please do continue to make it fun because that’s important too 😊

Do you have comments? Or questions? Please just shout and please please do share this far and wide so that we can get the message across to mums!!

Ps. if you want to book onto a weaning or a fussy eating course or have something you want to speak to a registered dietitian about then please do get in contact via the website or my social media pages.