Good nutrition is vital for our health and development no matter how big (or small) we are. As babies rely on us for their nutritional requirements, it’s important to be aware of the essentials and how best to get them into our growing family members, as well as how to continue this when they start eating solids.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid, an important nutrient for the development of a child’s brain and eye tissue. The body can’t produce DHA at optimal levels so we must rely on our diet to provide this nutrient.
A child’s brain grows 175 percent in the first year of life, another 18 percent in the second year of life and then a further 21 percent from the age of two through to adulthood. This rapid growth requires DHA, which is involved in neural cell signalling. This process is associated with higher order brain activities like focused attention, planning and problem solving as well as social and emotional development. Deficiency has been linked with problems in learning and behaviour and on the flipside, supplementation of DHA showed improvements in these areas of development.
From 6 months of age, babies begin complementary foods or ‘family foods’. Sources of DHA in their solid diet become important at this time. This is a vulnerable nutritional time for babies, and as a Dietitian I see plenty of adults who don’t meet their fish and seafood intake, so sources of DHA aren’t typically abundant in their child’s diet either.
The best sources of DHA are from oily fish like salmon, tuna, trout, anchovies, herring, mackerel, and DHA-fortified foods and drinks. At 6 months of age, babies need approximately 0.5g per day in total of omega 3 fatty acids.
Here are some ideas on how to get adequate DHA-containing foods into your child’s diet:
- 50-60g boneless, cooked salmon, trout or tuna several times per week - texture dependent on baby’s age:
- Puree fish into mixed vegetables like pumpkin and broccoli
- Mash fish into sweet potato and other vegetables
- Salmon fish cakes made with boneless fish and mashed potato
- Salmon fish fingers, crumbed and oven-baked
- As baby gets older, flake salmon or trout through scrambled egg or omelette
- Fish oil and algae supplement (check the brand’s levels for babies and children)
- Add to porridge, smoothies, yoghurt and baby’s milk
Including DHA containing foods into a child’s diet from an early age is essential to not only help meet nutritional requirements for a rapidly growing brain, but also widen babies’ palettes and get them used to eating foods like fish and eggs. If it’s impossible to get babies eating these foods, or if the household is vegetarian or vegan, a fish or algae supplement will be necessary.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re a parent, but the nutritional needs of our children is one that should remain high on the priority list in order to give them the best foundation when it comes to their health.