The early years of a child’s life are a time of rapid growth and development. For the first six months of their life, breast milk or infant formula supply all the nutrition a baby needs. However from six months of age, foods need to be introduced to complement milk. After the first year, food becomes an important part of a child’s world as milk intake is reduced and more foods are eaten.
Infants and toddlers should be given and encouraged to eat a wide variety of foods to make sure they get the necessary vitamins and minerals to complement the rapid growth occurring in their bodies. A variety of foods also exposes toddlers to different textures and flavours.
One food that is a welcome inclusion in a young child’s diet is egg. Plunket recommends including mashed egg in a babies diet from the age of 7-8 months. Mashed egg is not only an easy food for a young child to eat and digest, but eggs are also the base of many healthy well balanced meals.
Eggs are very nutritious as they contain a range of nutrients including high quality protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals. It is important to include both the yolk and white in a child’s diet as they provide different nutrients. Egg white contains only protein while egg yolk contains all the fat, some protein and most of the vitamins and minerals.
Protein is made up of 20 amino acids and the quality of the protein is determined by the balance of the amino acids present. The protein in egg is called high quality or ‘complete protein’ because it contains all the essential amino acids needed for growth, development and health. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and therefore need to be sourced from foods we eat. For their weight eggs provide the highest quality protein of all foods.
Fat is an important nutrient but like many things it is all about balance – not too much and not too little. Eggs are incorrectly thought to be high in fat, but in reality a large egg contains only about 5 grams of fat and less than half that is saturated fat. The fat in eggs supplies energy and fat-soluble vitamins, both important for growth.
Eggs contain a range of minerals including; Selenium, Iodine, Iron, Zinc and Phosphorous, with each playing an important role in the health and wellbeing of children. Selenium is an antioxidant which protects the immune system. By eating one egg, an infant (7-12 months) has eaten almost three quarters of their recommended daily intake for Selenium, or for a child aged 1-3 years old they have consumed almost half of the Selenium recommended for the day. Iodine is essential for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, important in growth and brain function. From 6 months of age infants need to eat Iron rich foods to support brain function and growth. Zinc also helps in growth, wound healing, blood formation and maintenance of tissues, while Phosphorous helps build strong bones and teeth.
Eggs are a gold mine of vitamins; including most of the B Vitamins like Folate and Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, D and E. Vitamin D is important as it is not commonly found in food. While the best source of Vitamin D is the sun, it is good to include foods containing Vitamin D in the diet of infants and toddlers as they are often kept out of the sun. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Folate assists with growth and maintenance of healthy cells, Vitamin B12 is important for brain and nervous system functions and blood formation, while Vitamin A is important for eye health.
As well as offering a range of nutrients, eggs are also a very versatile food that can be used in many different meals to satisfy children as they grow. Finger food is great for toddlers as they learn to feed themselves and eat larger pieces of food. For many young Kiwis egg and soldiers in the highchair is just about a rite of passage, while chopped hardboiled egg on a platter with carrot sticks, bread soldiers and fruit makes for a healthy lunch or snack.
Pre-schoolers can have egg sandwiches, such as wholemeal sandwich quarters with egg, lettuce and cheese. At night, scrambled eggs on toast make for an easy dinner.
The first time you introduce your baby to any new foods be sure to watch for signs of allergic reactions including hives, difficulty breathing or asthma type symptoms, swelling of the mouth or throat, vomiting, diarrhoea and even loss of consciousness. If this occurs seek immediate help and call emergency services to assist.
And don’t overlook the importance of an easy, nutritious food like eggs in the diet of new mothers. Often when you’re tired, busy and body conscious eating can become another hassle. Eggs are the perfect food in this situation. They can be prepared quickly, easily and in a variety of more adult friendly ways; added to salads, stir fries, toasted sandwiches, and pasta or made into omelettes, quiches, pies and other meals. As they are high in protein, eggs are great nutrition for breast feeding mothers.
Affordable, versatile, highly nutritious and enjoyed by all ages, eggs are one of the true superfoods. The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation supports including up to six eggs a week per person in a healthy family diet.
Credit: Sarah Hanrahan – Dietician for the NZ Nutrition Foundation