Babies and toddlers are growing and developing rapidly during the first few years of life. A child’s brain is 80% of its adult size by the time he or she is just two years old. Good nutrition is paramount. There are no right or wrong answers though and each baby is different. Offer your baby a wide variety of foods but don’t worry if they dislike or reject some – that’s only natural. It often takes several attempts before new foods are enjoyed. The information provided here is predominately based on the guidelines provided in the Ministry of Health’s Gude for Eating for Healthy Babies and Toddlers, which we highly recommend you read for more detail.
For the first six months of life, your baby should only be fed breast milk. They don’t need water or any other drinks or food until they’re around 6 months. If you are not able to breastfeed, infant formula is a suitable alternative. After 6 months, exclusive breast milk or formula is not enough on its own for your baby to grow and develop. So you should start your baby on solid food and also continue breastfeeding/infant formula until they’re at least 1 year old. The frequency at which you breastfeed over this period depends on your baby’s age, as outlined by the Ministry of Health.
Breast milk supplies everything a baby needs to grow and develop for the first six months of life. It also helps protect your baby against infection and can reduce the risk of allergy.
Infant formula feeding
While breastmilk is best, there are many reasons why parents choose to use infant formula. If possible, try to maintain some breastfeeding. Always follow the instructions on the label, measure the powder carefully and be safety conscious using clean bottles and safe water.
from 0 to 6 months – only breast milk (or formula if breast milk is unavailable)
from 6 to 12 months – breast milk (or formula) and water
from 1 to 2 years – breast milk, up to 350 ml whole-fat cow’s milk (dark blue lid), and water
As toddlers are still growing rapidly, reduced-fat milk (light blue cap) is not recommended until children are at least 2 years old, and are growing and eating well. Juices, soft drinks, cordial, tea (including herbal teas), coffee, or alcohol are not suitable and should not be given.
These guidelines will depend on the stage of development of your baby. Some babies quickly accept new flavours and textures of foods, while other babies take more time.
Around 6 months
By six months of age, your baby’s nutritional needs are increasing rapidly and solid foods should be introduced to complement breastmilk or infant formula. Offer your baby milk (breast or formula) before solid foods. First foods include: cooked and puréed vegetables and fruit, such as pumpkin, kumara, potato, apple, and pear, mashed ripe banana, puréed meats, such as beef, lamb or chicken, iron-fortified baby rice, and iron-fortified infant cereal. Introduce foods one at a time, starting with thin purees and changing texture as the baby becomes more adapted to eating solids.
Around 7-8 months
At this stage, your baby should still be offered milk (breast or formula) before solids. When your baby starts picking up small objects and putting them to their mouth, try giving your baby finger foods, such as toast fingers, cooked baby carrots, or cooked pasta. Try encouraging your baby to feed themself. Offer a mixture of pureed and finger foods to suit your baby’s needs.
Around 8-12 months
The baby is starting to crawl. Continue to offer your baby milk (breast or formula) before solids. Meat, fish, chicken, and vegetables can now be finely chopped to provide new textures. Offer a wider variety of foods, including soft fresh fruit, white bread, plain crackers, yoghurt, and custard.
Around 12 months
At this stage, offer baby solid foods before milk (breast milk or formula). Your baby still needs about 2 feeds of breast milk or infant formula each day as well as a wider range of foods. They have small stomachs so offer small meals and snacks regularly throughout the day, as well as eating smaller amounts of family meals if suitable.
Delaying the introduction of foods often associated with allergies, such as cow’s milk, egg, or wheat, does not reduce the incidence of allergies occurring. Such foods should be introduced along with a variety of foods at the appropriate age. Introducing these foods while continuing breastfeeding may help prevent allergies. If your family has a history of food allergies, discuss this with your doctor or a dietitian before excluding any foods from your baby’s diet.
Iron is essential for brain development, so iron-rich foods are particularly important for your baby. Your baby is born with a store of iron and, for the first six months of life, will receive enough iron from breast or formula milk. From six months onwards, your baby will need iron-rich foods to complement their milk.
Choose iron-fortified infant cereals as the first foods, followed by puréed meat and fish. Puréed chickpeas, lentils, dried peas, and dark leafy green vegetables also contain iron, but the iron in these foods is not absorbed as well as the iron from animal foods. These foods should be eaten with pureed fruit such as apple, orange, and kiwifruit. They contain vitamin C which helps increase the amount of iron absorbed.
Ministry of Health. (2021, November 01) Feeding your baby. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
Ministry of Health. (2021, August) Eating for healthy babies and toddlers. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
Last reviewed: 20/06/2022
Last modified: June 21, 2022