Baby portion sizes – how to tell if your baby if eating well
Feeding your baby (and getting it right) is a hot topic. The most frequently asked question I get on social media is “How much food should my baby be eating?”
After all, what you feed them makes them grow, develop and flourish into the little Einsteins of the future.
So it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that a common worry is around your little one eating enough food.
What are the official baby portion sizes?
Actually, there are no official baby food guidelines on baby weaning portion sizes but there are one or two useful guides.
The reason that there are no official guidelines is that all babies are so very different. Some take to weaning really quickly and you can be on 3 meals a day by the end of the first week and others take tiny amounts, gradually getting there by their first birthday.
Some love their milk feeds and the idea of solid foods is just a bit alien to them and so it can take a while for them to accept food.
When you ask your parents, friends, health professionals, google etc the answers are vast, and in the first year of life what your baby does and what your friend’s baby does are probably both completely normal.
How much should my baby eat?
We know the nutritional requirements of babies and we know how these change as they grow. Scientists have studied roughly how much milk both breastfed and formula fed babies take at each stage.
Because of this, registered dietitians can work out the difference and turn this information into baby food portions by age
, detailing how much baby food babies need to get to meet their nutritional requirements. And this is exactly what I’ve done in my portion size guides
Before I dive in, I need to just say that all babies are different and that the nutritional requirements we have are for the ‘average baby’ so if yours doesn’t quite fit, don’t panic!
As long as they’re growing well and gaining weight, have wet nappies lots of times a day and enough energy to play and explore then they’re probably doing just fine at their own unique pace.
Have your baby weighed and measured about once a month and plot their measurements in the red book
. As long as they’re tracking their centile line, they’re probably doing fine.
What should my 6 month old be eating?
At the start of weaning
babies tend to eat very little. At this point it isn’t really about nutrition, weaning is about getting them used to the taste and texture of something other than milk.
We want you to offer lots of different tastes and textures so that your little one experiences all kinds of flavours but don’t worry about quantities. Baby led weaning portion sizes are likely to be smaller compared to babies following traditional weaning at the start and this is because it requires a bit more skill and practice.
At 6.5 months, use the next couple of weeks to build them up to three meals (or eating occasions) per day and from 7 months you can start to implement my portion size guides
so that by 9 months weaning is really well established.
What does my baby need at 7-9 months?
At 7-9 months
it’s recommended that your baby is having 3-4 milk feeds each day from breast milk, infant formula or a combination of both. If your little one is formula fed this would be around 600ml a day.
I recommend to be on 3 meals a day at this age and these would be made up from a variety of food groups and include a mix of textures from soft lumps and mashed foods with finger foods alongside. 3 meals a day gives your baby plenty of opportunities to take in nutrition and to also practice their feeding skills.
My portion size guide for 7-9 month olds
will take you through the key nutrients at this age and how much of each food group to offer to meet their nutritional needs. There’s also my preferred weaning routine that helps to regulate your baby’s appetite.
What does my baby need at 10-12 months?
At 10-12 months weaning should be really well established. Milk feeds would be down to 2-3 feeds a day between breast and formula feeds with a maximum of 400ml each day. Your baby would still be on 3 meals a day and most babies wouldn’t need snacks
until they are past 12 months old.
Meals would be minced or chopped versions of the family meal as well as finger foods and some harder or crunchy foods and include a variety of food groups.
My portion size guide for 10-12 month olds
has taken into account that your little one is taking less formula and needs more food but they’re also not growing as quickly – what a balance! It also includes my preferred routine which helps to keep your little one satisfied through the day and puts you in a good place for the transition into being the parent of a toddler!
Toddler portion sizes
Once your little baby has grown into a toddler you may be surprised to find that their portion sizes actually get smaller! This is because their growth slows down so they don’t need as much food.
At this age milk turns into a maximum limit rather than a target to aim for as this is no longer needed as a substantial source of energy.
Your baby should have no more than 300-400ml of milk each day alongside 3 meals and 2-3 nutritious snacks. Meals for toddlers should be the same meal that the rest of the family is eating but chopped into mouth sized bites with finger foods too.
My portion size guide for toddlers
walks you through what balanced toddler meals and snacks should look like. I also give you my successful toddler routine that discourages fussy eating. I’ll also show you how to limit their milk intake.
Why is responsive feeding important?
Babies are born with an ability to self regulate their food and milk intake. As long as you provide the milk and food your baby will take what they need and stop when their little body has had enough. The rest of the food becomes something to play with, and this is fine too (it’s actually great for their sensory integration – read more here
This ability to self regulate according to what their body actually needs is an amazing ability they’re born with and it lasts till around age 4-5.
How do you know when babies are hungry or full?
If you watch closely you might start to recognise some of the cues to look out for to know if your baby is hungry or full. Watch and follow these cues to know when to feed and when to stop.
Your baby might be hungry if:
They reach for food
Get excited when they see food
Points to food
Moves head towards the spoon
Uses their voice to tell you that they’re hungry
Is fussy or crying
Your baby might be full if:
They turns their head away from the spoon
Your baby slows down eating
Distracted by what’s going on around them
Food gets thrown off of their plate
Cries or shakes their head no
Why does my baby eat more on some days than others?
Appetites do fluctuate too, just like you and I and much of this depends upon what other developmental milestones your baby is mastering. They may eat more when they’re:
– learning how to crawl, stand and walk
– having a rapid growth spurt
– learns a new skill
– the food on offer is low in nutrients
They may eat less when they:
– are teething
– when the food on offer is nutrient rich
– are feeling poorly
– haven’t had enough sleep
– its hot weather or cold weather
– being encouraged to eat when they don’t want to
But what if they’re not eating enough?
Firstly check your baby’s milk intake, you want to make sure that they’re not so full up on milk that they have no interest in food.
Secondly, having a routine is really important too. They need to eat when they’re alert, not tired and have an appetite and not too full from a recent milk feed.
Thirdly, check what you are doing at their mealtime. Are you feeding responsively? Make sure you notice their “I’m finished” signal and don’t try and feed them when they do this. It will lead to food refusal and a toddler who is a master of fussy eating!
What if they’re eating too much?
In the main, you can’t overfeed a baby provided you provide a balanced diet and feed them responsively which means following their cues and not tempting them to take just ‘one more mouthful’.
If they finish their meal and want more, then go for it, this is absolutely fine. Try offering them something else and if their little body needs it they will take it and stop when they’re full.
Some babies are ‘pleasers’ and will continue eating, ignoring their fullness cues if they think this is what you want and it will make you happy. Research has shown that by overly encouraging or tempting little ones to eat, we have inadvertently taught them to switch off their self-regulation.
Not all babies are ‘pleasers’ but those who have temperaments lean towards pleasing will overeat if they think this is what you want them to do.
If you think your baby falls into this category then you may have to offer more appropriate portion sizes
and observe how you and other caregivers respond at mealtimes.
When should I be concerned?
While having portion sizes
for babies can be a helpful rule of thumb to know how much to serve, don’t take it as gospel in terms of exactly what she should eat day by day.
I’m always going to advise you to look back across a period of time, for example, the last week or so and reflect on what your baby has eaten and how they have been, rather than worry about what they’ve decided to eat or not eat at a particular meal.
Seek advice if your baby’s growth starts to move upwards or downwards from their centile line in their red book
. Always go on at least 2 different measurements on two different dates spaced several weeks apart as babies are notoriously difficult to measure in length and a full bladder can make the difference of several hundred grams in weight!
Ask for guidance from your Health Visitor if your baby’s milk intake increases or decreases dramatically from the week before. They may be coming down with a bug.
If your baby’s food intake is nowhere near the portion sizes suggested in my guide, you might want to talk to a Registered Dietitian. It may be that they simply love their milk feeds and just aren’t learning her hunger cues.
You will also need to talk to a professional for nutritional advice if they haven’t progressed from purees onto more complex textures and finger foods because experiencing more challenging textures are crucial to help with development including learning to talk.
Your health visitor or GP can refer you to an NHS dietitian or you can book in with a private practice paediatric dietitian who works on my team here.