Is there such a thing as 'too much fruit' for your little one?
Nature's candy! Paediatric Dietitian Jenny Douglas of Jumpstart Nutrition gives us the lowdown on when, why, and how much fruit to give our little ones.
Fruit is an important part of our diet as it offers essential nutrients for health. Fruit has a natural sweetness that is appealing to infants as they have a natural sweet tooth – being used to the sweetness of breast milk or formula.
WHEN CAN FRUIT BE INTRODUCED?
Fruit can be introduced from 4-6 months of age alongside other foods when your baby is showing signs of readiness to start solids. These signs of readiness are: holding their head up, sitting with less support, reaching for food and bringing toys to their mouth. Due to its natural sweetness, infants are usually happy to accept fruit. It's important to remember that savoury (eg meat, fish, chicken, lentils) and bitter flavours (eg broccoli, cauliflower, spinach) will be new for your baby and these are important to introduce alongside sweet foods like fruit. It's a good idea to introduce baby to vegetables and meats prior to introducing fruit so that they get the opportunity to try a flavour that is not just sweet. The first year of life is an important time to introduce as many different tastes to your baby and a variety of different fruits are nice for your baby to explore.
WHY DO WE INTRODUCE FRUIT TO BABIES AND CHILDREN?
Fruit is an important source of nutrition, but the main benefit of fruit is vitamin C and fibre. Vitamin C in fruit helps support our immune system, your baby’s Vitamin C requirements are around 30mg per day, which can be reached with one mandarin or half a kiwifruit.
Fruit is high in fibre, which helps support a healthy gut and can be very useful for babies who have problems with constipation. Most babies have a change in stools when they start on solids and many have problems with a slower gut. Introducing fruit into your baby’s diet can be very helpful for managing constipation. I have a saying, "P-fruits for poop" – this is because many fruits starting with the letter 'p’ have a natural laxative effect, such as peaches, pears, and plums. Sorbitol is naturally occurring in these 'p' fruits and is a great natural laxative for babies. Sorbitol is a carbohydrate that is not fully digested and moves into the large intestine where it is fermented and draws water into the colon to help produce bowel movements.
Another fantastic fruit for getting the bowel moving is kiwifruit. Kiwifruit has a natural enzyme called zyactinase, which has been shown to increase transit time and speed up the gut process. Kiwifruit is also a good source of fibre to soften the stool and acts like a prebiotic to feed the gut microbe.
Fruit is often high in fluid and as your baby moves from milk feeds as their main source of fluid, to water over the first two years of life, fruit can be a useful way to increase fluid. Over the summer, with hotter temperatures, your baby will need increased fluid and some babies can be slow to accept water from a sippy cup or normal cup. Fruits high in water content, such as watermelon, nectarines, peaches, plums and melon, can help babies who may need to increase their fluid intake.
HOW CAN YOU INTRODUCE FRUIT SAFELY TO BABY?
To make fruit safe for babies it's important that it is soft enough to reduce the risk of choking. Fruit is best served soft (cooked), peeled, and deseeded. Fruit can be offered as a puree with peeled and cooked fruit, or as finger food which is soft enough that you can squash it between your thumb and forefinger, or between the roof of your mouth and your tongue.
For finger foods, offer long and wide shaped fruit sizes to start so that your baby can pick them up easily. For example, a banana cut into long lengths. You can coat banana and other slippery fruit with baby rice or ground almond to help them have more grip on the fruit. Once your baby is older and has good hand-eye coordination they can have smaller pieces of fruit, such as diced peaches.
HOW MUCH FRUIT SHOULD A BABY BE EATING?
Once your baby is established on solids and eating a variety of vegetables and meats, then you can aim to give your baby two pieces of fruit per day. Remember that a serving of fruit for your baby is different than yours. One serving for a baby is the size of their fist. This means that as your baby grows (and the size of their fist grows), so does the portion of fruit that they need.
IS FRESH BEST OR CAN YOU USE CANNED?
Fresh is best and if possible, try to buy seasonally. It's a good idea to wash all fruit well before giving it to your baby and choose fruit that is grown with less pesticides and insecticides. Frozen fruit is just as nutritious as fresh, and this is a good way to offer fruits that may not be in season. If using canned, then buy fruit canned in juice rather than syrup and then use a sieve and wash off the juice.
IS THE SUGAR IN THE FRUIT BAD FOR BABIES?
Lots of parents worry about the sugar in fruit, but when it comes to natural sugars contained in fruit we do not need to restrict these. The World Health Organisation suggests reduction in added sugars but this does not include natural sugar contained in fruit and milk. Added sugars, such as table or white sugar are the sugars we want to avoid for babies; these are often found in bakery products and drinks. We want to avoid or limit added sugars for babies.
Dried fruit, such as raisins, should be given to your baby with caution. Remember that a small packet of raisins is the equivalent to 20-30 grapes, which is a lot of natural sugars in one go. You might find that this causes some diarrhoea as the amount of sugar will cause an osmotic effect and result in running stools. Dried fruit is very sticky and can increase the risk of tooth decay because it sticks to the teeth for longer than fresh fruit. So aim to offer fresh over dried fruit to your baby.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO INCLUDE FRUIT INTO YOUR CHILD'S DIET?
Fruit can be added to yoghurt or custard, into baking, such as muffins and pikelets and can be added to savoury meals too. As your child gets older it can be fun to add fruit into water to make a refreshing drink. Add fresh berries, mint and cucumber into iced tap water to make a special beverage for the whole family.
Growing your own fruit can be a great way to spark interest in fruit for your child, or heading to a local grower who offers 'pick your own' can also be fantastic activity for little ones and helps them understand how food grows. Fruit is a fantastic food for babies and when served fresh and in a way that is safe, it can be enjoyed every day.
So, get out there and enjoy the fabulous New Zealand summer and the delicious summer fruits that come with it.
TWO FRUIT RECIPES FOR YOUR BABY from Jennifer Douglas
Gut Mover Puree
1 kiwifruit (peeled)
1 peach/nectarine/plum (peeled and stone removed). Hint – you can use canned if they are rinsed and drained
½ cup probiotic Greek-style yoghurt
1. Blitz kiwifruit and peach/nectarine/plum in a food processor or mash with a fork.
2. Serve with yoghurt.
Apricot Yum Chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
1 chicken thigh (diced)
2 fresh apricots (or canned and drained) diced with stone removed
½ cup sweet potato (peeled and diced to 2cm cubes)
½ cup carrot (peeled and diced to 2cm cubes)
2 cups water
1. In a saucepan cook the chicken thigh in the olive oil until cooked thoroughly.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until sweet potato, carrot and apricots are soft.
3. Place in a blender and blitz until smooth or mash with a fork.
Jennifer Douglas is a Registered Dietitian specialising in children’s nutrition, food allergies and intolerances, and fussy eaters. She sees families for nutrition consults in Dunedin or throughout NZ via Zoom as well as online seminars. jumpstartnutrition.co.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 56 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW