How Much Food Do Babies Actually Need? Day 3: How Much Food Do Babies Actually Need

How Much Food Do Babies Actually Need?

Babies are curious, cute, and tiny human beings who surprise us every now and then! They’re growing, they’re exploring, and they’re learning. A lot of the experiences we consider routine are new for them, and they need time to get comfortable. 

Just like babies are different, so are their appetites! One day, a baby might devour everything in sight, and the next, the same baby will manage to nibble on a few bites. These inconsistencies can leave many parents confused and wondering whether their baby is eating enough. 

As a parent, ensuring that your little one gets the right nutrition for healthy growth and development is a top priority. But how much food is the right amount for your baby based on their age? Let’s explore age-appropriate serving size suggestions to help you navigate this journey.

Understanding Your Baby's Appetite

It’s important to recognize that each baby is unique, and their appetite will vary. Comparing your baby’s eating habits to those of other babies can lead to unnecessary stress and confusion. Babies’ growth during their first year is rapid, and proper nutrition plays a pivotal role in this phase. 

But remember that breast milk or formula continues to be the primary source of nutrition for babies under 1 year. When your baby doesn't finish a meal, it's okay because they are still receiving essential nutrients from their milk.

The Size of a Baby's Tummy

A newborn’s stomach is incredibly small, about the size of a marble. By day 10 of their life, it grows to the size of a ping pong ball. Even at 1 year, a baby's stomach is still quite small, about the size of their tiny fist. This limited stomach capacity means that your baby can't consume large quantities of food in one go.

Serving Size Versus Portion Size

Before we dive into serving sizes, let's clarify the difference between serving size and portion size.

  • Portion size refers to the amount of food your baby can eat in one sitting, which can vary based on their appetite. 
  • Serving size, on the other hand, is a reference used by nutritionists to assess a child's food intake. Babies may eat more or less than the recommended serving size, and that's perfectly normal.

Why Serving Size Matters

We don't recommend measuring every serving you give your baby, as this can create unnecessary stress at mealtimes. However, understanding serving sizes can provide valuable insights into your baby’s nutritional needs and help set appropriate expectations.

A Visual Guide for Measurements

In this article, we will use common measurement units like cups and tablespoons. But, there’s no need to measure food precisely; you can eyeball these measurements using simple tricks:

  • The tip of your thumb equals 1 tablespoon.
  • The entire thumb is about 2 tablespoons.
  • A whole egg or ping pong ball is equivalent to a quarter (3/4th) cup.

ICMR Recommendations for Babies

Here are the recommended serving sizes of food per day, following the guidelines provided by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) in the Dietary Guidelines for Indians for babies aged 6-12 months:

  •     Total Calorie Requirements: 80 kcal/kg/day
  •     Protein Requirement: 1.69 g/kg/day
  • Cereals and Millets: 3-4 tablespoons

  • Pulses: 3-4 tablespoons

  • Vegetables: 4-8 tablespoons

  • Fruits: 4-8 tablespoons

  • Fats/Oil: 4 teaspoons 

Let's break down suggested serving sizes for babies aged 6-12 months, keeping in mind that these are general guidelines and all babies are unique.

Serving Sizes for Babies 6-9 Months

Breast/formula milk: While babies between 6 and 9 months have increased calorie requirements, they don't consume as much food as one might expect. In the initial 6 months of life, their calorie needs are primarily fulfilled through breast/formula milk.

Make sure to maintain a consistent number of bottle or milk feeds even after introducing solid foods because the feeds remain the primary source of nutrition. The early introduction of solids serves to expose your baby to various flavors and textures while helping them develop eating skills.

Diversifying the diet: The objective during this period is to gradually diversify the baby's diet. Babies in this age range typically have around 6 to 8 bottle feeds (breast or formula) per day, including some night feeds. Additionally, you can introduce 1-2 solid food meals a day during this time

Serving sizes: As a general guideline, start with 1-2 tablespoons of solid food 1-2 times a day. This recommendation applies to each food group you offer. For instance, if you're serving khichdi and potato sabzi, provide 1 tablespoon of each. 

When offering finger foods, it can be challenging to measure them in tablespoons. Cut finger foods into approximately 2-inch wide and 2-finger long pieces and offer them to your baby.

Gradual increase: Typically, at around 8 months, you can introduce another meal to their diet, ensuring they have a balanced meal that includes grains, pulses, meats, vegetables, and fruits. 

But don’t worry about the quantity of food they consume each day.

  • Hunger and fullness cues: Pay attention to your baby's hunger and fullness cues. Offer more if your baby seems hungry for more. Respect your baby's signals to stop the meal.
  • Positive mealtime experience: Try to schedule mealtimes when your baby is in a good mood, playful, and well-rested. This way, babies will have a positive association with meal times.

Serving Sizes for Babies 9-12 Months

Family foods: Between 9 and 12 months, the aim is to transition your baby to family foods. You want more of their meals to resemble what the rest of the family is eating, with some adjustments to make them suitable for your baby.

Balanced meals: Consider adding an extra meal at this stage. Include foods like pulses, grains, millets, meats, vegetables, and fruits in their diet. Ensure a diverse range of textures, flavors, nutrients, and tastes.

If you're practicing baby-led weaning, provide your baby with preloaded spoons according to the recommended serving sizes, in addition to finger foods. A combination of approaches works best, allowing your baby to explore some foods independently while you offer others.

Chewing skills: From 9 to 12 months, focus on encouraging your baby's chewing skills. If they've been primarily on purees so far, it's time to introduce more chewable foods. While your baby is getting used to finger foods and more solid textures, you might notice that their overall consumption of solid food reduces compared to when they were on purees. That’s okay! Keep offering chewable foods so your baby has opportunities to develop an essential life skill like chewing.

Serving sizes: When serving these foods, provide approximately 2-3 tablespoons of soft, bite-sized pieces. Keep in mind that you should offer 2-3 tablespoons of each food group included in the meal. Opt for smaller-sized pieces, especially as your baby refines their pincer grasp. Adjust the portions based on your baby's appetite, and it's perfectly fine if they want to eat more.

Cow’s milk: Between 11 and 12 months, start introducing a small quantity of cow's milk in an open cup, to help your baby become accustomed to it.

Be flexible: It’s challenging to precisely measure the amount of food your baby consumes, whether in tablespoons or otherwise. Therefore, our recommendation is, focus on ensuring there’s a variety of foods that offer essential nutrients and don’t worry about exact measurements.

3 Tips to Remember!

  • Ensure your baby is in a good sitting position during meals for safety and a positive experience.
  • Let your baby's hunger and fullness cues guide you; avoid forcing them to eat.
  • Adjust portion sizes based on your baby's appetite, and remember that growth indicators like urine, bowel movements, sleep, and energy levels are more important than precise serving sizes.

Feeding your baby is a journey filled with unique experiences. While serving sizes provide a helpful reference, it's essential to be flexible and responsive to your baby's needs. Every baby is different, and their appetite can change from day to day.

Trust your baby's cues, and remember that the joy of mealtime is as important as the quantity of food consumed.

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