Your baby's first solid foods

When to start introducing solid foods

Introducing your baby to solid foods – sometimes called weaning or complementary feeding – should start when your baby is around six months old.

It's a really important step in their development, and it can be great fun to explore new flavours and textures together.

To begin with, how much your baby takes is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating. They will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or infant formula. 

Babies don't need three meals a day to start with, so you can begin by offering foods at a time that suits you both.

Gradually, you'll be able to increase the amount and variety of food your baby eats, until they can eventually eat the same as the rest of the family, in smaller portions.

Why it pays to wait until they're ready

Research shows babies can get all the nutrients they need from breast milk or infant formula until they are around six months old. Waiting till then gives their digestive system time to develop fully so it can cope with solid foods. This includes solid foods made into purées and cereals added to milk.

If you are breastfeeding, having breast milk alone up to the age of six months will protect your baby against infections. Breast milk will carry on protecting them from infections for as long as you carry on feeding.

Whether your baby has breast milk or infant formula, waiting until they are ready for food will save a lot of time, too. They'll quickly be able to feed themselves and with less mess, as they will be able to swallow properly.

Three signs your baby is ready for their first food

Every baby is an individual, but there are three clear signs that, together, show your baby is ready for solid foods alongside breast milk or formula. It's very rare for these signs to appear together before your baby is six months old.

1. They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady.

2. They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so they can look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth, all by themselves.

3. They can swallow food. Babies who are not ready will push their food back out with their tongue, so they get more round their face than they do in their mouths.

Some signs that can be mistaken for a baby being ready for solid foods:

  • chewing fists
  • waking in the night when they have previously slept through
  • wanting extra milk feeds

These are normal behaviours and not necessarily a sign of hunger or being ready to start solid food. Starting solid foods won't make them any more likely to sleep through the night. Extra feeds are usually enough until they're ready for other food.

Getting started with solid foods

  • Always stay with your baby when they are eating in case they start to choke.
  • Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food.
  • Allow your baby to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest.
  • Don't force your baby to eat – wait until the next time if they're not interested this time.
  • If you're using a spoon, wait for your baby to open their mouth before you offer the food. Your baby may like to hold a spoon, too.
  • Start by offering just a few pieces or teaspoons of food, once a day.
  • Cool hot food and test it before giving it to your baby.
  • Don't add salt, sugar or stock cubes to your baby's food or cooking water. 

What foods to give your baby as they grow

Feeding your baby from 0-6 months

Your baby only needs breast milk or first infant formula. "Follow-on" formula isn't suitable for babies under six months, and you don't need to introduce it after six months either.

Check with your health visitor or GP first if you want to introduce solid foods before six months.

Babies and food allergies

While variety in your baby's diet is really important, there is a chance they may be allergic to certain foods. That's why it's important to introduce cows' milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, fish and shellfish one at a time and not before six months.

There is no evidence that waiting until your child is older will prevent them developing a food allergy. Once your baby is ready for solids, give them these foods in very small amounts and watch carefully for any symptoms of an allergic reaction.

If your baby already has a known allergy, such as a diagnosed food allergy or eczema, or you have a family history of food allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever, you may need to be particularly careful when introducing peanuts and peanut products. Talk to your GP or health visitor first. Remember, peanuts, like all nuts, should be crushed or ground.

Baby food from 6 months

First foods

Your baby's first foods can include mashed or soft cooked fruit and vegetables like parsnip, potato, yam, sweet potato, carrot, apple or pear, all cooled before eating. Soft fruits like peach or melon, or baby rice or baby cereal mixed with your baby's usual milk, are good as well.

Keep feeding your baby breast milk or infant formula, too, but don't give them whole cows' milk as a drink until they are one year old.

Finger foods

Finger food is food that is cut up into pieces big enough for your baby to hold in their fist with a bit sticking out. Pieces about the size of your own finger work well. Your baby learns to chew this way. Try grabbable bits of soft, ripe banana or avocado.

Next foods 

Once your baby is used to the foods above, they can have soft cooked meat such as chicken, mashed fish (check very carefully for any bones), pasta, noodles, toast, pieces of chapatti, lentils, rice and mashed hard-boiled eggs. They can also have full-fat dairy products such as yoghurt, fromage frais or custard. Choose products with no added sugar or less sugar. Whole cows' milk can be used in cooking or mixed with food from six months.

Cups

Introduce a cup from around six months and offer sips of water with meals. Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip and is better for their teeth.

See more about cups for babies and toddlers

Vitamins

The Department of Health recommends that all under-fives are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day. 

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day shouldn't be given vitamin supplements because formula is already fortified with nutrients.

Read more about vitamins for babies and toddlers

Feeding your baby from 8-9 months

Your baby will gradually move towards eating three meals a day. It will be a mixture of soft finger foods, and mashed or chopped foods.

Your baby's diet should consist of a variety of the following: fruit and vegetables; bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and other starchy foods; meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein; and milk and dairy products.

Your baby's food from 12 months

Your baby will now be eating three meals a day, chopped if necessary, plus breast milk or whole cows' milk and healthier snacks like fruit, vegetable sticks, toast and rice cakes.

They can now drink whole cows' milk. Choose full-fat dairy products as children under two need the extra fat and vitamins found in them. From two years old, if they are a good eater and growing well, they can have semi-skimmed milk. From five years old, 1% fat and skimmed milk is OK.

You can give your baby:

  • three to four servings a day of starchy food such as potatoes, bread and rice
  • three to four servings a day of fruit and vegetables
  • two servings a day of meat, fish, eggs, dhal or other pulses (beans and lentils)

Read more about what to feed young children

What milk, when?

For around the first six months you should feed your baby only breast milk or infant formula. Infant formula made from cows' or goats' milk is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby's life. Only use soya-based infant formula if your GP has advised you to. Follow-on milks are available for babies over six months, but there is no need to change over to these.

Cows' milk can be mixed with food from six months and whole cows' milk can be given as a drink from one year. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once your child is two years old, as long as they're a good eater and they have a varied diet. Skimmed and 1% milk aren't suitable for children under five, as they don't contain enough calories.

Infant formula, follow-on formula or growing-up milks are not needed once your baby is 12 months old. Goats' and sheep's milk are not suitable as a drink for babies under one year.

You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks, as part of a healthy, balanced diet from the age of one. Toddlers and young children under the age of five should not be given rice drinks because of the levels of arsenic they contain.

If your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can advise you on suitable milk alternatives.

Babies: foods to avoid

Salt

Babies shouldn’t eat much salt, as it isn't good for their kidneys. Don't add salt to your baby’s food and don't use stock cubes or gravy, as they're often high in salt. Remember this when you’re cooking for the family, if you plan to give the same food to your baby.

Sugar

Your baby doesn’t need sugar. By avoiding sugary snacks and drinks (including fruit juice and other fruit drinks), you'll help to prevent tooth decay. Use mashed banana or other fruits, breast milk or formula milk to sweeten food, if needed.

Honey

Occasionally, honey contains bacteria that can produce toxins in a baby’s intestines, leading to infant botulism, which is a very serious illness. It’s best not to give your child honey until they’re one year old. Honey is a sugar, so avoiding it will also help to prevent tooth decay.

Nuts

Whole nuts, including peanuts, shouldn't be given to children under five, as they can choke on them. As long as there's no history of food allergies or other allergies in your family, you can give your baby peanuts once they're six months old, as long as they're crushed or ground into peanut butter.

'Low-fat' foods

Fat is an important source of calories and some vitamins for babies and young children. It’s better for babies and young children under two to have full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, rather than low-fat varieties.

See What to feed young children for more information

Saturated fat

Don't give your child too many foods that are high in saturated fat, such as crisps, biscuits and cakes. Checking the nutrition labels on foods can help you choose foods that are low in saturated fat.

See more on food labels

Shark, swordfish and marlin

Don't give your baby shark, swordfish or marlin. The amount of mercury in these fish can affect a baby’s growing nervous system.

Raw shellfish

Raw shellfish can increase the risk of food poisoning, so it’s best not to give it to babies.

Raw and undercooked eggs

Eggs can be given to babies over six months old, but make sure they're cooked until both the white and yolk are solid.

Food allergies in children

Babies are more likely to develop allergies if there's a history of eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergies (known together as atopy) in the family.

If your baby has a family history of these conditions, breastfeeding your baby exclusively (breast milk only) for the first six months will help to lower their risk. If you're not breastfeeding, ask your GP for advice on what kind of formula to give your baby.

When you start introducing solids (weaning), introduce the foods that can trigger allergic reactions one at a time so that you can spot any reaction. These foods are:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • wheat
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fish and shellfish

Don't introduce any of these foods before six months.

Lots of children outgrow their allergies to milk or eggs, but a peanut allergy is generally lifelong. 

Children and peanut allergy

Allergies to nuts, nut products and some seeds affect 1-2% of people. Your child has a higher risk of developing a peanut allergy if they already have an allergy (such as eczema or a diagnosed food allergy), or there's a history of allergy in their immediate family (such as asthma, eczema or hay fever).

If this is the case, talk to your GP or health visitor before you give peanuts or food containing peanuts to your child for the first time.

If you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) while breastfeeding, you can do so, unless you're allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.

Avoid giving your child peanuts and foods containing peanuts before the age of six months. Foods containing peanuts include peanut butter, peanut (groundnut) oil and some snacks. Don't give whole peanuts or nuts to children under five years old, because they could choke on them.

Read food labels carefully and avoid foods if you're not sure whether they contain peanuts.

How will I know if my child has a food allergy?

An allergic reaction can consist of one or more of the following:

  • diarrhoea or vomiting
  • a cough
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • itchy throat and tongue
  • itchy skin or rash
  • swollen lips and throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sore, red and itchy eyes

In a few cases, foods can cause a very severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) that can be life-threatening. If you think your child is having an allergic reaction to a food, seek medical advice.

Don’t be tempted to experiment by cutting out a major food, such as milk, as this could lead to your child not getting the nutrients they need. Talk to your health visitor or GP, who may refer you to a registered dietitian.

Food additives and children

Food contains additives for many reasons, such as to preserve it, to help make it safe to eat for longer, and to give colour or texture.

All food additives go through strict safety testing before they can be used. Food labelling must clearly show additives in the list of ingredients, including their name or "E" number and their function, such as "colouring" or "preservative".

A few people have adverse reactions to some food additives, but reactions to ordinary foods, such as milk or soya, are much more common.

Processed foods are more likely to contain additives and high levels of salt, sugar and fat. Therefore, it's best to avoid eating too many of these foods.

What to feed young children

Like the rest of the family, your toddler needs to eat a variety of foods.

Here are some tips on the different sorts of food to offer your child, plus a few that it's best to avoid.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre. It's good to introduce lots of different types from an early age, whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried, so your baby can enjoy new textures and flavours. Try to make sure fruit and vegetables are included in every meal.

Dried fruit, such as raisins, should be given to your toddler with meals, rather than as a snack in between, as the sugar they contain can cause tooth decay.

Different fruit and vegetables contain different vitamins and minerals, so the more different types your toddler eats the better.

Don't worry if they'll only eat one or two types at first. Keep offering them small amounts of other fruit and vegetables so they can learn to like different tastes.

Some children don't like cooked vegetables but will nibble on raw vegetables while you’re preparing a meal. 

Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods

Starchy foods, such as bread, breakfast cereals, potatoes, yams, rice, couscous, pasta and chapattis provide energy, nutrients and some fibre.

You can give your child wholegrain foods, such as wholemeal bread, pasta and brown rice. However, it's not a good idea to only give wholegrain starchy foods to under-twos.

Wholegrain foods can be high in fibre and they may fill your child up before they've taken in the calories and nutrients they need. After age two you can gradually introduce more wholegrain foods.  

Milk and dairy products

Breast milk is the only food or drink babies need in the first six months of their life. It's best to carry on breastfeeding alongside an increasingly varied diet once you introduce solid foods.

Infant formula is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby's life.

Whole cows' milk can be given as a main drink from the age of one.

Whole milk and full-fat dairy products are a good source of calcium, which helps your child to develop strong bones and teeth. They also contain vitamin A, which helps the body resist infections and is needed for healthy skin and eyes.

Try to give your child at least 350ml (12oz) of milk a day or two servings of foods made from milk, such as cheese, yoghurt or fromage frais.

Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced from the age of two, provided your child is a good eater and growing well for their age. Skimmed or 1% fat milk doesn’t contain enough fat so isn’t recommended for children under five. You can use them in cooking from the age of one though.

You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks, from the age of one as part of a healthy balanced diet. Toddlers and young children under the age of five shouldn't have rice drinks, because of the levels of arsenic they contain.

If your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can advise you on suitable milk alternatives.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

Young children need protein and iron to grow and develop. Try to give your toddler one or two portions from this group each day.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and foods made from pulses (such as tofu, hummus and soya mince) are excellent sources of protein and iron.

Nuts also contain protein but whole nuts, including peanuts, shouldn't be given to children under five in case they choke.

It's recommended that boys have no more than four portions of oily fish (such as mackerel, salmon and sardines) a week, and girls no more than two portions a week. This is because oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body.

Remember, don't stop feeding your child oily fish because the health benefits are greater than the risks, as long as they don't eat more than the recommended amounts.

Helping your child get enough iron

Iron is essential for your child's health. It comes in two forms:

  • the iron found in meat and fish, which is easily absorbed by the body
  • iron from plant foods, which is not as easy for the body to absorb

If your child doesn't eat meat or fish, they will get enough iron if you give them plenty of other iron-rich foods, such as fortified breakfast cereals, dark green vegetables, broad beans and lentils.

If young children fill up on milk it makes it difficult for them to get the calories and nutrients they need from a varied diet. These children are more likely to lack iron, which can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. This can affect your child's physical and mental development.

Foods containing fat, sugar and salt

Fat

Young children, especially those under the age of two, need the energy provided by fat. There are also some vitamins that are only found in fats. This is why foods like whole milk, yoghurt, cheese and oily fish are so important.

Once your child is two, you can gradually introduce lower-fat dairy products and cut down on fat in other foods – providing your child is a good eater and is growing well. By the time your child is five they can eat a healthy low-fat diet like the one recommended for adults.

Keep an eye on the amount of fat (particularly saturated fats) in the food your family eats. Try to keep it to a minimum. The following tips will help you reduce the amount of fat in your family's meals:

  • Grill or bake foods instead of frying them
  • During cooking, skim the fat off meat dishes such as mince or curry
  • Buy leaner cuts of meat and lower-fat meat products, such as lower-fat sausages and burgers
  • Take the skin off poultry
  • Reduce the amount of meat you put in stews and casseroles. Make up the difference with lentils, split peas or soaked dried beans
  • For children over two, use lower-fat dairy products, such as low-fat spreads and reduced-fat cheeses
  • Use as little cooking oil as possible. Choose one that's high in mono- or polyunsaturates, such as rapeseed, soya or olive oil. In the UK, oil labelled 'vegetable oil' is often actually rapeseed oil

Sugar

Brushing your child's teeth regularly and visits to the dentist are essential to help keep your child's teeth healthy. It's also important to keep the amount of added sugar they have to a minimum. Added sugar is found in fizzy drinks, juice drinks, sweets, cakes and jam. 

It's best to offer your toddler water or whole milk to drink. Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once they are two years old. You can also offer diluted fruit juice (one part juice to 10 parts water) served with meals. Serving it with a meal helps to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

From age five, it's OK to give your child undiluted fruit juice or smoothies, but stick to no more than one glass (about 150ml) a day served with a meal.

The sugar in raisins and other dried fruits can cause tooth decay. It's best to give these to your toddler with meals rather than as a snack in between.

Salt

There's no need to add salt to your child's food. Most foods already contain enough salt. Too much salt can give your child a taste for salty foods and contribute to high blood pressure in later life.

Your whole family will benefit if you gradually reduce the amount of salt in your cooking. Try to limit the amount of salty foods your child has, and always check food labels.

Toddler food: common questions

What are healthy snacks for toddlers?

You could try:

  • raw vegetable sticks, such as cucumber and carrots
  • a plain yoghurt with a banana sliced into it
  • a slice of toast with cheese spread, hummus or a slice of ham
  • some crackers, breadsticks or unsalted rice cakes with cheese
  • a bowl of cereal with milk
  • a piece of fruit

What can I pack in my toddler's lunchbox when they go to nursery?

Good sandwich fillings are canned tuna or salmon, hummus, hard or cream cheese, ham or peanut butter (see advice on food allergies).

You could add a few vegetable sticks, such as carrots, peppers or cucumber, to munch on and a container of bite-sized fruit – for example, a peeled satsuma or washed seedless grapes. A box of raisins is fine if eaten at lunchtime. Examples of healthier sweet options include a yoghurt, fromage frais, a scone or a currant bun.

If you include a fromage frais or yoghurt, don’t forget a spoon. A piece of kitchen towel is also useful.

If lunchboxes are not kept in the fridge at nursery, use an insulated box with an ice pack to keep food safe and cool. You can give milk, water or well-diluted fruit juice in a leak-proof beaker.

I've heard that high-fibre foods aren't suitable for toddlers. Why?

Fibre is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. But foods that contain a lot of fibre (such as wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice and wholegrain breakfast cereals) can fill up small tummies, leaving little room for other foods. This means your toddler can feel full before they've taken in the calories they need.

It's good for your toddler to try different kinds of starchy foods, but don't give only wholegrain foods before your child is five years old.

My child will only drink sugary drinks. What can I do?

Drinking sugary drinks increases the chance of tooth decay. If your toddler will only drink sugary drinks, it can take a while to break the habit. Start to dilute the drinks with water, increasing the amount of water gradually over time, so the change isn't too noticeable to them. Water and full-fat cows' milk are the best drinks for toddlers.

See Drinks and cups for children for a list of other healthier drinks

Am I entitled to any benefits to help me buy healthy food for my child?

If you have children under four, you're pregnant and on benefits, or you're pregnant and under 18, you may qualify for Healthy Start vouchers.

For more information, visit the Healthy Start website, where you can find out if you qualify for vouchers. If so, you can apply online for Healthy Start vouchers, or get an application form from your GP surgery, midwife or health visitor. You can also call 0845 607 6823 if you would like one sent to you in the post.

Fussy eaters

It's natural for parents to worry about whether their child is getting enough food, especially if they refuse to eat sometimes.

The trick is not to worry about what your child eats in a day, or if they don't eat everything at mealtimes. It's more important to think about what they eat over a week.

As long as your child is active and gaining weight, and it's obvious they're not ill, then they’re getting enough to eat, even if it may not seem like it to you.

It’s perfectly normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or even taste new foods.

Providing your child eats some food from the four main food groups (milk and dairy products, starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, protein), even if it’s always the same favourites, you don't need to worry. Gradually introduce other foods or go back to the foods your child didn’t like before and try them again.

The best way for your child to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you. Try to eat with them as often as you can so that you can set a good example.

Tips for parents of fussy eaters

  • Give your child the same food as the rest of the family, but remember not to add salt to your child's food. Check the label of any food product you use to make family meals. See more about food labelling.
  • Eat your meals together if possible.
  • Give small portions and praise your child for eating, even if they only manage a little.
  • If your child rejects the food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take the food away without comment. Try to stay calm even if it’s very frustrating.
  • Don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
  • Your child may be a slow eater so be patient.
  • Don’t give too many snacks between meals. Limit them to a milk drink and some fruit slices or a small cracker with a slice of cheese, for example.
  • It’s best not to use food as a reward. Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, reward them with a trip to the park or promise to play a game with them.
  • Children sometimes get thirst and hunger mixed up. They might say they’re thirsty when really they’re hungry.
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Sit down and chat about other things.
  • If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, ask them round for tea. A good example can work well, as long as you don’t talk too much about how good the other children are.
  • Ask an adult that your child likes and looks up to to eat with you. Sometimes a child will eat for someone else, such as a grandparent, without any fuss.
  • Children’s tastes change. One day they’ll hate something, but a month later they may love it.
  • Changing the form a food comes in may make it more acceptable. For example, a child might refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw, grated carrot.

It's particularly important for picky eaters to have children's vitamin drops until the age of five.

Vegetarian and vegan children

If you're bringing up your child on a diet without meat (vegetarian) or without any food from an animal (vegan), they'll need two or three portions of vegetable proteins or nuts every day to make sure they get enough protein and iron.

Don't give whole nuts to children under five years old as they could choke. Grind nuts finely or use a smooth nut butter.

Read food allergies for important information about peanut allergy.

Weaning your vegetarian baby

The advice on introducing solids at about six months is the same for vegetarian babies as for non-vegetarian babies. However, as your child gets older, there's a risk that a vegetarian or vegan diet may be low in iron and energy and too high in fibre.

You can make sure your child gets enough iron by giving them:

  • fortified breakfast cereal
  • dark green vegetables
  • bread
  • beans and lentils
  • dried fruit, such as apricots, figs and prunes

Vitamin C in fruit and vegetables helps the body to absorb iron, so include these at every mealtime.

You can help ensure that your child gets all the nutrients they need by giving them smaller and more frequent main meals, with one or two snacks in between, and making sure they eat a good variety of foods. You'll also need to make sure they get enough calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

The Department of Health recommends that all under-fives are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day shouldn't be given vitamin supplements because formula is already fortified with nutrients.

Read more about vitamins for babies and toddlers

Vegan diets for children

If you're breastfeeding and you're on a vegan diet, it's important that you take a vitamin D supplement. You may also need extra vitamin B12.

Take care when giving children a vegan diet. Young children need a good variety of foods to provide the energy and vitamins they need for growth.

A vegan diet can be bulky and high in fibre. This can mean that children get full up before they've taken in enough calories. Because of this, they may need extra supplements. Ask a dietitian or doctor for advice before introducing your child to solids.

Energy

Young children need lots of energy to grow and develop. Give vegan children high-calorie foods, such as hummus, bananas and smooth nut and seed butters (such as tahini and cashew or peanut butter). They still need starchy foods. However, don't give only wholegrain and wholemeal versions to children under five years old because they're high in fibre. For extra energy, you could add vegetable oils or vegan fat spreads to foods.

Protein

Pulses and food made from pulses are a good source of protein for vegan children. Nut and seed butters also contain protein. Always use smooth versions for babies and children under five years old. Breastfeeding until your child is two or more, or giving them soya-based formula milk if they are vegan, will help ensure they get enough protein.

Ask your GP for advice before using soya-based formula.

Calcium

Fortified soya drinks often have added calcium. Some foods are also fortified with calcium, so check the label.

Vitamin B12

Fortified breakfast cereals and some yeast extracts contain vitamin B12. Your child may also need a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Some omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain vegetable oils, such as linseed, flaxseed, walnut and rapeseed oils. However, these are chemically different from the long chain omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish. Evidence suggests that these short-chain fatty acids may not offer the same protection against heart disease as those found in oily fish.

Vitamins for children

Growing children, especially those who don't eat a varied diet, sometimes don't get enough vitamins A and C. It's also difficult to get enough vitamin D through food alone.

That’s why the Department of Health recommends that all children aged six months to five years are given vitamin supplements containing vitamins A, C and D every day.

It's also recommended that babies who are being breastfed are given a daily vitamin D supplement from birth. 

Babies who are having more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day shouldn't be given vitamin supplements because formula is fortified with certain nutrients and no other supplementation is required.

Where can you get baby vitamin drops?

Your health visitor can give you advice on vitamin drops and tell you where to get them. You're entitled to free vitamin drops if you qualify for Healthy Start.

Some supplements that can be bought over the counter in pharmacies contain other vitamins or ingredients. Talk to your pharmacist about which supplement would be most suitable for your child.

Having too much of some vitamins can be harmful. Keep to the recommended dose stated on the label, and be careful not to give your child two supplements at the same time. For example, don't give them cod liver oil and vitamin drops, as cod liver oil also contains vitamins A and D. One supplement on its own is strong enough.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D only occurs naturally in a few foods, such as oily fish and eggs. It is also added to some foods, such as fat spreads and breakfast cereals. The best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight on our skin.

However, it's sensible to keep your child's skin safe in the sun. Children shouldn't be out too long in the sun in hot weather. Remember to cover up or protect their skin before it turns red or burns.

It's important that young children still receive vitamin drops, even if they get out in the sun.

Read more about vitamin D and sunlight

The Department of Health recommends that:

  • Babies from birth to one year of age who are being breastfed should be given a daily supplement containing 8.5 to 10mcg of vitamin D to make sure they get enough
  • Babies fed infant formula should not be given a vitamin D supplement until they are having less than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day, because infant formula is fortified with vitamin D
  • Children aged 1 to 4 years old should be given a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D

Exclusive breastfeeding until around six months will help you protect your baby from illness and infection. Babies who aren't breastfed are more likely to get diarrhoea and vomiting and respiratory infections.

For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast cancer and it may also offer some protection against ovarian cancer.

Breast milk should continue to be given alongside an increasingly varied diet once your baby is introduced to solid foods.

Vitamin supplements containing vitamins A and C are recommended for infants aged six months to five years old, unless they are getting more than 500ml (about a pint) of infant formula a day.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for babies and young children, and some may not be getting enough. It strengthens their immune system, can help their vision in dim light, and maintains healthy skin. 

Good sources of vitamin A include:

  • dairy products
  • fortified fat spreads
  • carrots, sweet potatoes, swede and mangoes
  • dark green vegetables, such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is important for your child's general health and their immune system. It can also help their body absorb iron.

Good sources of vitamin C include:

  • oranges
  • kiwi fruit
  • strawberries
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes
  • peppers

A healthy diet for children

It’s important for children to eat healthily to make sure they are getting all the energy and nutrients they need to grow and develop properly.

Drinks and cups

Solid foods and milk for your baby

As your baby eats more solid foods, the amount of milk they want will decrease.

Once your baby is eating plenty of solids several times a day, they may take less milk at each feed or even drop a milk feed altogether.

You should continue to breastfeed or give your baby infant formula until they're at least one year old. Breastfeeding will continue to benefit you and your baby for as long as you carry on.

Beakers and cups for babies

If you're bottle feeding, it's a good idea to introduce a cup rather than a bottle from about six months. By the time your baby is one, they should have stopped using bottles with teats. Otherwise, they may find it hard to break the habit of comfort sucking on a bottle.

Comfort sucking on sweetened drinks is the biggest cause of tooth decay in young children. When using a bottle or trainer cup, don't put anything in it other than formula milk, breast milk or water.

Using an open cup or a free-flow cup without a valve will help your baby learn to sip rather than suck, which is better for their teeth.

Choosing a baby beaker or cup

It's important to choose the right kind of beaker or cup. A beaker with a free-flow lid (without a non-spill valve) is better than a bottle or beaker with a teat. Drinks flow very slowly through a teat, which means that children spend a lot of time with the teat in their mouth. As soon as your child is ready, encourage them to move from a lidded beaker to drinking from an open cup.

Drinks for babies and young children

Not all drinks are suitable for babies and young children. Here's what to give to your child and when.

Breast milk

This is the only food or drink babies need in the first six months of their life. It should continue to be given alongside an increasingly varied diet once you introduce solid foods.

Formula milk

This is usually based on cows' milk and is the only suitable alternative to breast milk in the first 12 months of your baby's life. Cows' milk can be introduced from 12 months.

Non-cows' milk formula

Goats' milk formula is available and produced to the same nutritional standards as cows' milk formula. It isn't suitable for babies with cows' milk protein allergy and shouldn't be given to these babies unless recommended by a health professional.

You should also only give your baby soya formula if a health professional advises you to.

'Goodnight' milk

This isn't suitable for babies under six months old. You can start using it after this age, but you don’t have to as there are no proven health benefits compared to using regular formula.

Water

Fully breastfed babies don't need any water until they've started eating solid foods. Bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather.

For babies under six months, use water from the mains tap in the kitchen. You will need to boil then cool the tap water as it's not sterile straight from the tap. Water for babies over six months doesn't need to be boiled.

Bottled water isn't recommended for making up formula feeds as it may contain too much salt (sodium) or sulphate.

Cows' milk

Cows' milk doesn't contain enough iron and other nutrients to meet young babies' needs. That's why it shouldn't be given as a drink to babies until they are 12 months old. Whole milk should be given to children until they are two years old, as they need the extra energy and vitamins it contains.

Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced once your child is two years old, as long as they're a good eater and they have a varied diet. Skimmed and 1% milk aren't suitable for children under five, as they don't contain enough calories. Lower-fat milks can be used in cooking from the age of one though.

Unpasteurised milk

Young children shouldn't be given unpasteurised milk because of the higher risk of food poisoning.

Goats' and sheep's milk

These aren't suitable as drinks for babies under one as, like cows' milk, they don't contain enough iron and other nutrients babies this age need. As long as they're pasteurised, they can be used once your baby is one year old.

Soya drinks and other milk alternatives

You can give your child unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives, such as soya, almond and oat drinks, from the age of one as part of a healthy balanced diet. Toddlers and young children under the age of five shouldn't be given rice drinks, because of the levels of arsenic in these products (see more below).

If your child has an allergy or intolerance to milk, talk to your health visitor or GP. They can advise you on suitable milk alternatives.

Rice drinks

Children under five shouldn't have rice drinks as they may contain unsafe levels of arsenic. Arsenic is found naturally in the environment and can find its way into our food and water. Rice tends to take up more arsenic than other grains. 

Don't worry if your child has already had rice drinks. There's no immediate risk to them, and there are unlikely to be any long-term harmful effects. But to avoid the possibility of them taking in any more arsenic, it's best to switch to a different kind of milk. 

Fruit juice and smoothies

Fruit juices, such as orange juice, are a good source of vitamin C. However, they also contain natural sugars and acids, which can cause tooth decay.

Babies under six months old shouldn't be given fruit juices. Diluted fruit juice (one part juice to 10 parts water) can be given to children with their meals after six months. Giving fruit juice with mealtimes (rather than between) helps reduce the risk of tooth decay.

From age five, it's OK to give your child undiluted fruit juice or smoothies, but stick to no more than one glass (about 150ml) a day served with a meal.

Squashes, flavoured milk, 'fruit' or 'juice' drinks and fizzy drinks

These are not suitable for young babies. These drinks contain sugar and can cause tooth decay, even when diluted. 

For older babies and toddlers, these drinks can lead to poor appetite, poor weight gain and, in toddlers, diarrhoea. Even drinks that have artificial sweeteners can encourage children to develop a sweet tooth.

Watch out for drinks that say 'fruit' or 'juice' drink on the pack. These probably won't count towards your child's 5 a day and can be high in sugar.

Fizzy drinks are acidic and can damage tooth enamel so they shouldn't be given to babies and toddlers.

Diet or reduced-sugar drinks aren't recommended for babies and toddlers.

'Baby' and herbal drinks

These usually contain sugars and are not recommended.

Hot drinks

Tea and coffee aren't suitable for babies or young children. They can reduce the amount of iron absorbed from food, especially if they're given with meals. If sugar is added, this can lead to tooth decay.

Food safety and hygiene

Keep your child safe from food bugs

Babies and young children are especially vulnerable to the bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Make sure your baby isn't at risk because of the way you prepare or serve food.

  • Always wash your hands well before preparing food and after touching raw meat, chicken and eggs. 
  • Teach your children to wash their hands after touching pets and going to the toilet, and before eating.
  • Keep surfaces clean and keep any pets away from food or surfaces where food is prepared.
  • Thoroughly wash all bowls and spoons used for feeding in hot soapy water and keep chopping boards and utensils thoroughly clean.
  • Keep raw meats covered and away from other foods in the fridge, including cooked or ready-to-eat meats – it’s best to store raw meats in clean covered containers at the bottom of the fridge to prevent any drips from falling on to other foods.
  • Cook all food thoroughly and cool it until lukewarm before giving it to your baby.
  • Don’t save and reuse foods that your child has half eaten. 
  • Wash and peel fruit and vegetables such as apples and carrots.
  • Avoid raw eggs, including uncooked cake mixture, homemade ice creams, homemade mayonnaise or desserts that contain uncooked egg.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and the white are firm.
  • If you'd like to prepare foods that normally contain raw or partially cooked eggs, you should consider using pasteurised egg, which is available from some supermarkets.
  • Avoid eating raw or lightly cooked shellfish. Children should only eat shellfish that has been thoroughly cooked.
  • Don’t give children food or drink when they’re sitting on the potty.

Read more about how to prepare and cook food safely

Storing and reheating food for children

  • Cool food as quickly as possible (ideally within one to two hours) and put it in the fridge or freezer. Food placed in the fridge should be eaten within two days.
  • Frozen food should be thoroughly defrosted before reheating. The safest way to do this is to leave it in the fridge overnight or use the defrost setting on a microwave.
  • When reheating food, make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through, then let it cool down before giving it to your child. If you’re using a microwave, always stir the food and check the temperature before feeding it to your child. Don’t reheat cooked food more than once.
  • To cool food quickly, put it in an airtight container and hold it under a cold running tap. Stir it from time to time, so that it cools consistently all the way through.

Remember, you should always stay with your baby while they are eating, in case they choke.

Meal ideas for children

If you need some inspiration to help you cook healthy and tasty food for your kids, try these meal ideas. 

They're not suitable as first foods, but fine once your baby is used to eating a wide range of solid foods.

When preparing food for babies, don’t add salt, sugar or stock cubes directly to the food, or to the cooking water.

Breakfast ideas for babies and children

  • Unsweetened porridge or cereal mixed with milk, topped with mashed ripe pear.
  • Wholewheat biscuit cereal with milk and unsweetened stewed fruit.
  • Toast fingers with mashed banana.
  • Toast fingers with a hard-boiled egg and slices of ripe peach.
  • Unsweetened stewed apple and breakfast cereal with plain, unsweetened yoghurt.

Children's lunch or tea ideas

  • Cauliflower cheese with cooked pasta pieces.
  • Mashed pasta with broccoli and cheese.
  • Baked beans (reduced salt and sugar) with toast.
  • Scrambled egg with toast, chapatti or pitta bread.  
  • Cottage cheese dip with pitta bread and cucumber and carrot sticks.
  • Plain fromage frais with stewed apple.

Children's dinners

  • Mashed sweet potato with mashed chickpeas and cauliflower.
  • Shepherd’s pie (made with beef or lamb) with green vegetables.
  • Rice and mashed peas with courgette sticks.
  • Mashed cooked lentils with rice.
  • Minced chicken and vegetable casserole with mashed potato.
  • Mashed canned salmon with couscous and peas.  
  • Fish poached in milk with potato, broccoli and carrot.

Snacks for babies and toddlers

  • Fresh fruit, such as small pieces of soft, ripe peeled pear or peach.
  • Canned fruit in fruit juice.
  • Rice pudding or porridge (with no added sugar or salt).
  • Plain, unsweetened yoghurt.
  • Toast, pitta or chapatti fingers.
  • Unsalted and unsweetened rice cakes.
  • Plain bagels.
  • Small cubes of cheese.

Getting your child to eat fruit and vegetables

  • Put their favourite vegetables or canned pineapple on top of pizza.
  • Give carrot sticks, slices of pepper and peeled apple as snacks.
  • Mix chopped or mashed vegetables with rice, mashed potatoes, meat sauces or dhal.
  • Chop prunes or dried apricots into cereal or plain, unsweetened yoghurt, or add them to a stew.
  • For a tasty dessert, try mixing fruit (fresh, canned or stewed) with plain, unsweetened yoghurt. You could also try tinned fruit in fruit juice, such as pears and peaches, or unsweetened stewed fruit, such as apples.

Your baby and cows' milk

From six months, keep giving your child mum's milk or formula milk, as well as introducing solid foods, but don't give cows' milk as a drink. Whole cows' milk can be used in small amounts in cooking or mixed with foods from the age of six months. You can give it to your child as a drink from the age of one.

Semi-skimmed milk can be introduced at two years old, providing your child is eating a varied diet and growing well for their age. From five years, you can give your child 1% or skimmed milk to drink.

Help your baby enjoy new foods

Once your baby is eating solids it's important to give them as many different healthy foods as you can.

 

This way they're more likely to keep eating them as they grow up. It's a great habit to get into, and one that will hopefully help avoid fussy eating and make your life a little easier as your baby gets older.

It's best not to give them foods or drinks with added sugar, or salty or fatty food either, as this will make them more likely to want them as they get older.

  • Take your time – allow plenty of time for eating, especially at first. Rushing or forcing your baby could lead to problems. Go at your baby's pace and stop when they show you they've had enough.
  • Offer different foods – babies like to choose for themselves and sometimes take their time getting used to different foods. Offer new foods often and your baby will gradually get used to them.
  • It's messy – it can get messy, but this is an important part of your baby's development. You may want to cover the floor with newspaper or a protective mat to make clearing up easier.
  • Show them how you eat – babies copy their parents and other children, so you can help them by showing them that you eat healthier foods. Babies enjoy watching you eat, and learn from being a part of family mealtimes. Help them join in by talking to them and giving them food when you or the rest of the family are eating. Having mealtimes around the same time every day can make it easier for your baby to know when it's food time.
  • Finger foods – let your baby feed themselves with their fingers. This way they can show you how much they want to eat, and it gets them familiar with different types of food. It also makes eating more enjoyable. As a guide, the best finger foods are foods that can be cut up into pieces big enough for your baby to hold in their fist and stick out of the top of it. Pieces about the size of your own finger work well.
  • How much – most babies know when they are full up, so don't make them finish a portion when they don't want to. Smaller, more frequent meals and healthier snacks will suit them better when they are little. Don't worry if your baby hasn't eaten much in a meal or a day. What they eat over a week is more important.
  • Homemade is best – homemade food is made from simple ingredients with no added sugar or salt. Any unused food can be kept in the fridge or frozen, then all you have to do is reheat the amount you need. This also helps your baby get used to family foods and saves money.
  • Jar or packet food – baby food in jars or packets can be handy, but portion sizes are often too big and much of it has the same texture. This may make it harder for your baby to accept more varied textures and move on to family foods as they get older. Jars are useful when you don't have much time or you're out with your baby.
  • Sit up straight – make sure your baby is sitting up straight so they are able to explore foods better and are less likely to choke.

How much milk?

As your baby eats more solid food they may want less milk at each feed, or even drop a milk feed altogether. Babies should have breast milk (or infant formula) for at least the first year, and can carry on with breast milk for as long as you both want.

From 12 months, full-fat cows' milk is fine as your baby's main drink. Infant formula, follow-on formula or growing-up milk is not needed once your baby is 12 months old.

See more about drinks and cups for babies