Babies are curious creatures. One night they slumber beautifully, the next the remind us why sleep deprivation is a form of torture. We go through our checklist, trying to work out why they’re restless – nappy change, too hot, too cold… but there’s one factor many parents don’t realise plays a role in the quality of their baby’s sleep – food, glorious food! We’ve consulted food expert and parenting author Annabel Karmel to talk us through the foods that can help your baby sleep better. And she’s also sharing a baby food recipe that just might help your little one slumber a little more peacefully!
The way food impacts a baby’s sleep is complicated, and that’s why we’ve turned to Annabel Karmel to help us decode the fascinating link between what babies eat, and how they slumber.
Annabel has spent years researching the part food plays in all facets of babies’ and toddlers’ lives, from learning to sleeping, and then developing ways to harness these properties through recipes and her ready made meals. She’s keen to share this knowledge with Babyology mums and dads, so here are her top tips on how food can help your baby sleep better.
How does food affect a baby’s body?
Some foods will make babies more alert, and others will promote sleep. Annabel explains, “Some types of food contain stimulants which will increase energy for a period of time making you less sleepy. Other types of food produce chemicals in the brain that promote calm and sleepiness. Foods that help sleep contain a substance called tryptophan. Tryptophan produces a brain chemical called serotonin from which melatonin – so essential for sleep that it’s named the ‘sleep hormone’ – is manufactured.”
Here are some examples of foods that are high in tryptophan:
- Poultry, in particular turkey
- Dairy products – cheeses such as cheddar, gruyere and Swiss cheese have particularly high amounts of tryptophan
- Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage and spinach
- Tofu and soya products
How can I best use these foods in my baby’s diet?
Annabel says that for the tryptophan to actually aid your child in feeling sleepy, the foods rich in the substance need to be combined with healthy carbohydrates.
“Carbohydrates cause the release of insulin, which helps tryptophan reach the brain and cause sleepiness,” she says.
Here are some combos that incorporate the two:
- Turkey with potato
- Baby pasta with some cheddar cheese grated on top
- An egg sandwich made with whole wheat bread
- Tofu with stir-fried vegetables
- Tuna with salad and whole wheat bread
When are the best times for my baby to eat?
Correctly timing your baby’s meal can also impact how well they sleep. Annabel explains, “If they have a big meal just before going to bed their metabolic rate and body temperature will increase instead of decreasing which will make it harder for them to get to sleep. I would suggest that this meal is provided one-and-a-half to two hours prior to bedtime.”
These are Annabel’s top pieces of advice for good meal timing:
- If your baby is still taking bottles, cap off dinner with a small warm bottle of milk right before bed. This could soothe him and help him stay asleep.
- Remember that there is no magic food that will get your baby to sleep all night long. Making sure your baby gets plenty of satisfying food to eat is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to get your baby to sleep through the night.
Annabel Karmel is well-known for her brilliant baby food recipes, and has shared one of her favourites, which is aimed at promoting a good night’s rest.
Sweet Potato, Pear and Broccoli
Suitable from six months
Slow-burning carbs such as sweet potato are good to serve before bed as the nutrients are absorbed at a slower rate, avoiding a spike in sugar levels.
- 15g butter
- 150g leek, chopped
- 250g sweet potato, diced
- 150g butternut squash, diced
- 200g pear, peeled and diced
- 500ml water
- 80g broccoli, chopped
- 100ml milk
- 50g parmesan, grated
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the leek, sweet potato, squash and pear. Gently sauté over the heat for 4 – 5 minutes. Add the water.
2. Cover with a lid, then bring up to the boil and let it simmer for about 20 minutes until tender.
3. Add the broccoli, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes until soft.
4. Add the milk, then blend until smooth using a hand blender. Stir in the cheese.
Makes four portions.
If you’re after some similar, delicious, nutritious and filling baby meals in a hurry, you can now get your hands on Annabel’s range of snap-frozen, peel & pop purees in the freezer aisle at Coles. They’re made from 100 per cent fruit and vegetables and they make the perfect go-to, nutritious meals.
(This is a sponsored post for Annabel Karmel)