Food requirements during different life stages

Baby’s 0 to 6 months

In the first year of a baby’s life they will grow more than in any other year of their life, growing in length by 50 percent and weight by 300 percent. Breast milk commonly supplies a baby with the required amounts of nutrients, fluids and energy until about 6 months of age. Breast milk is preferred to formula as it contains many protective and immunological factors not found in formulas that benefit the baby’s growth and development.

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Solid foods should be introduced at approximately 6 months of age, but depending on cultural beliefs and/or practices may change this. Wheat based cereal should be the first solid to be introduced, to reduce the risk of allergy to wheat. Fruit and vegetables should be introduced after the cereals, these are important for vitamin and mineral content and to introduce different tastes and textures of foods. Meat, poultry and fish are generally introduced last. Added salt, sugar or other ingredients similar to these should be avoided as well as cows milk for the first 12 months although if diluted may be suitable in small amounts. Occasional exposure to sunlight is enough to provide the babies vitamin D requirements.

Young children

Once a child is used to eating solids, it is important to offer a wide range of foods to ensure recommended nutrition is met. Young children are often fussy with eating and trying new foods but they should be encouraged to eat a wide variety of foods. Breast-feeding is recommended for about a year and fluids should not be discarded, as young children are susceptible to dehydration.

During childhood, children are likely to vary their food intake to correspond with their growth. A child’s vitamin, protein and mineral requirements will increase with age. If possible children should be accumulating stores of nutrients in preparation for growth spurts experienced in adolescents.


Proper nutrition during the adolescent years is very important because it needs to provide plenty of energy for growth spurts and changes to the body that they will be experiencing. A good diet during this stage of life can prevent many medical problems, including becoming overweight or obese, developing weak bones and developing diabetes. This will also ensure that the adolescent will grow to their full potential.

The best advise on nutrition to keep healthy as an adolescent includes eating a variety of foods, balance the food you eat with physical activity, choose a diet with lots of grain products, vegetables and fruit and choose to eat sugar and salt foods every so often rather than all the time.

Pregnant women

A pregnant woman should concentrate more on increasing her nutrient intake than her intake of kilojoules. In Australia pregnant women are expected to gain approximately 10kg to 15kg however this depends on the weight of the mother before birth. Often pregnant women think that they need to ‘eat for two’ but this is not the case, this will lead to unnecessary weight gain.

Nutrients that may need special attention include iron, calcium, folate, vitamin C, vitamin A and protein. Iron and folate supplements are often recommended, especially folate in the early days of pregnancy to avoid development of spina bifida in the baby. While pregnant a mother should refrain from smoking this can increase the risk of growth retardation, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, and placental complications and quite low birth rate.

Breastfeeding mothers

While breastfeeding, mothers energy needs will increase around 20% and protein about 29%. The needs of some vitamins and mineral will also need to be increased to meet the needs of both her and the baby’s.

In lactation the main nutrients needed are calcium, folate, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6. In most cases the mothers mineral intake and the milk mineral content will have on relationship for example the content of calcium in the mothers milk will not be dependant on how much calcium is in her intake, this is because if the mother is low in calcium the babies source of calcium will come from the mothers bones therefore effects on the mothers bone density may be present in later life.

Menopausal women

In post-menopausal women thinning of the bones is quite common, this is because of hormone related changes. Women going through these stages should increase their calcium intake or in more extreme circumstances a supplement maybe needed from a doctor.

The elderly

As you get older the less food you need. This is because as you get older you are not as active therefore you use do not use as much energy. But elderly people need lots of nutrients to keep their body as healthy as possible while they are going through changes such as metabolism, chronic disease, social conditions, and medication or medicine intake.

The most common reasons for the elderly having poor diets are food is no longer enjoyable because of deteriorating taste and smell, dentures make it difficult to chew some foods, loneliness and depression in elderly cause of loss of appetite.

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