12 key nutritional requirements for baby

You may have heard the saying, “Food before one is just for fun.” And to a large extent, that’s true. First foods allow baby to explore different textures and tastes and also takes the pressure off moms whose babies are small eaters. While you’re having fun introducing baby to the wild world of food, it’s still important to ensure that what you feed you little one, will provide the nutrients for them to grow healthy. Here’s a list of the top 12 nutrients important for proper development: 


Infants have the highest protein requirement per weight, compared to any other age group. Proteins form cells and hormones and function as enzymes. It’s no exaggeration: Proteins are the building blocks of life. As a reference, a cup of cow’s milk contains eight grams of protein, while one egg has six grams. While most protein comes from meat, poultry and dairy; try feeding baby plant based proteins, such as lentils, quinoa and beans for variety. 


Carbohydrates (commonly known as sugar and starches) provide energy to the cells in the body. Requirements are based on the minimum amount of glucose used by the brain. Most carbohydrates occur as starches (which are actually chains of simple sugars strung together) in food. Complex carbohydrates, such as grains, rice, starchy vegetables and cereals are good sources. 


Babies need fat for brain development and growth. In fact, it is so important for babies, that 30-40% of the calories your baby consumes should come from fat. While you may be used to eating a lower fat diet, be liberal when adding fat to your baby’s meals. Full-fat dairy, avocado, nut butter, olive oil, and coconut oil are all good sources. 


Iron is the main mineral that babies will need beyond about six months of age. In fact, babies need more than an adult male! So why is iron so important your baby? Iron transports oxygen around the body and is important for energy and brain development. Until six months, most babies rely on the iron stores they’ve retained from birth, Around six months, the iron stores from before birth run out, and risk of iron deficiency anemia is high. Anemia can cause delays in both physical and mental development. If you’re worried about your baby’s food intake or iron status, be on the lookout for physical signs of iron deficiency: pale skin, low energy, and decreased appetite and growth. So what are good starter foods that contain iron? Good sources for baby include cereal, dark meat poultry, beef, bison, beans, lentils, eggs, tofu, edamame and cooked spinach. Fortified infant cereal is the standard North American starter food, be sure to choose a whole grain version without added ingredients. An even better option is meat. Even though the recommendation to start with meats and meat alternatives is fairly standard now, it still seems to shock parents: “Meat?! Isn’t it hard for babies to digest meat?” No. In fact, it is harder for babies to digest grains. Think of the adults in your life, you likely know someone who is intolerant of grains yet how many people do you know who are allergic to meat? Plus, your baby’s body absorbs the iron in meat better than the iron in fortified cereals or other foods. 


Zinc helps wounds heal and strengthens immunity. Zinc is found in seafood, meat and lentils and beans. 


Build those bones big and strong! Good sources of calcium include leafy greens, like spinach and kale, beans, and almonds. 


Vitamin A is necessary for good vision and immune function. Preformed vitamin A, or retinol, is found in animal foods like liver, dairy products, and fish. Carotenoids (like beta-carotene) are converted into vitamin A in the body, and found mostly in green and orange fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, spinach, and squash. 


Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, picking up free radicals in our bodies. It’s also needed for iron absorption and the making of collagen and connective tissues. Fruits and vegetables like citrus fruits, berries, broccoli, and bell peppers are loaded with vitamin C. Vitamin C also helps your body resist infection. You can’t always avoid getting sick but Vitamin C makes it little harder for our babies small bodies to become infected. 


Vitamin D goes along with calcium in helping bone formation. and may also aid in preventing autoimmune disorders, some cancers, and more. Unfortunately, this fat-soluble vitamin occurs naturally in very few foods; our bodies produce vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sun. In the winter, all people living in cold, dark climes should be taking a vitamin D supplement. For infants aged one to three years, the vitamin D recommended dietary allowance is 600 IU/day. In a country like Canada, starting early is a good idea, because you never need to stop. 


The body relies on the B-vitamin folate for healthy function at all stages of life, from the formation of a fetus’s spine to memory function in older adults. Grain products are fortified with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate). Dark green vegetables, beans, and legumes are good food sources of folate. 


Omega-3 fats, specifically DHA and EPA, are required for brain development in infants and children. These essential fats cannot be made in our body, so we have to get them through our diet. When consumed, omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that may also reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease. Sources of DHA and EPA include fatty fish or algae supplements. Sources of alpha-linolenic acid, another omega 3 (some of which is converted into DHA and EPA in our bodies), include flax, hemp and chia seeds, canola oil, and soybeans.


Only recently has research begun to explore the biodome of the human gut, and the integral role gut bacteria play in maintaining our health. There are many strains of healthy probiotics, found in drop, powder and capsule form, each used for different health needs. If your baby is on antibiotics, you should definitely consider a probiotic to boost baby’s healthy gut bacteria in the face of the antibiotic onslaught. Probiotics may contribute to improved digestion, a lesser risk of eczema and allergies, and decreased bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and colic.

 Amount Required:

Under 1

Age 1-3








30-40% of calories



11 mg

7 mg


3 mg

3 mg


700 mg

700 mg

Vitamin A

500 ug

300 ug

Vitamin C

50 mg

15 mg

Vitamin D













Jennifer House

Registered Dietitian, Owner First Step Nutrition

Jennifer works with women, babies and children with issues like starting solids, picky eating, allergies and constipation, postpartum weight loss, and family meal planning.


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