No matter how many books you read or mums and dads you talk to, nobody can explain the difficulties, challenges and the endless rewards of parenting until you become a parent yourself.
With every stage of your child's life, there are many questions you will have.
What should I eat when breastfeeding? What should we look for when shopping for baby food? What are some healthy afternoon snacks for my child? Can my toddler eat what I eat?
While every child is different, when it comes to nutrition, there are some general guidelines that parents are encouraged to follow -- for when mum is pregnant, post-birth and during your son or daughter's childhood.
To get the answers to all your children and mum's nutrition questions, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Katie Joubert, qualified nutritionist and founder of Joubert Nutrition, who specialises in nutrition for mums and children.
1. Are there any 'danger' foods we think are healthy for kids to eat but aren't?
"Marketing is very clever and a lot of foods such as juices, yoghurts and puree pouches are cleverly geared towards children and mothers as 'healthy', but they can be very misleading," Joubert told HuffPost Australia.
Take for example the ever popular yoghurt 'squeeze'. On the front of the packaging it has in bold letters:
- Real fruit
- NO artificial colours, flavours, preservatives
- High in calcium
- Freeze for lunchboxes
"A parent who wants the best for their child will look at the packaging and think 'this is perfect, it ticks all the right boxes, my child will love it and it will be very convenient for me'. When we look on the back of the packet it tells another story," Joubert said.
"The ingredients on the back are milk, skim milk, sugar, milk solids and only five percent of the real fruit it is advertised for, as well as a long list of fillers and other items we may not be able to recognise."
To help parents find products that are healthy for their kids, Joubert recommends these easy tips for checking the nutrition information panel on the back of the product.
"Because nutritional panels at the back can be quite confusing, you tend to overlook them and trust that the brand you are investing in has your best interest at heart," she said.
"To simplify nutrition panel reading there are two things you can look out for. If it is more than 5g per 100g of sugar, or you see sugar in the first five ingredients, put it down because it goes in order of volume."
When it comes to flavoured yoghurt, Joubert said the best idea is take plain Greek yoghurt, blend a fruit of your choice and add a teaspoon of rice malt syrup if you want to add a bit of sweetness.
"This is by far the best option for you and your child," Joubert said.
"The packs of purees, yoghurts and fruit juices are colorful to attract children and they are convenient for busy parents. However, they do pack a lot of sugar and other additives so it is best to have them sparingly."
2. What foods should mums eat when breastfeeding?
When it comes to breastfeeding, Joubert recommends eating a nutritious, whole foods diet to ensure your baby gets the best start in life.
"Post-baby eating should consist of a well balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, eggs, dairy and lean proteins -- this will be the best thing for you and your child," she said.
"Depending on what your pre-pregnancy weight was and how much you gained, breastfeeding mothers are advised to increase their calories by 400-500, as a lot of your fat stores will be used when breastfeeding."
At this time, Joubert said it's important to listen to your body and "focus on the fact that your baby needs you to provide food and much needed nutrients for them to grow".
With every meal and snack I would suggest looking at how to make it nutrient dense, rather than how many calories you are having.
"Making a good meal can sometimes be hard especially during the day when you are left alone. Have a few staples to get you through the day, which you can easily snack on when your baby is asleep."
Quick, easy snacks include full fat dairy products such a Greek yoghurt, milk, cheese, as well as fruit, raw nuts, whole grain wraps and veggies sticks that can be dipped into hummus or guacamole.
"Good breast milk needs double the recommended calcium intake," Joubert said. "Another good snack are lactation cookies. The key ingredient is brewer's yeast which is known to bring on the milk supply.
"With every meal and snack I would suggest looking at how to make it nutrient dense, rather than how many calories you are having."
Water is also very important for breastfeeding mothers to replace the fluid you are losing through breastfeeding.
"Always have a bottle by your bed or where you feed your baby so you don't become dehydrated," Joubert said.
3. What foods should mums eat less of, or not eat, when breastfeeding?
After nine long months of avoiding coffee and alcohol, the last thing you want to hear is that you can't drink either while you breastfeed. According the Joubert, you may safely have caffeine in small quantities.
"What you eat is what your baby eats and this includes the amount of caffeine you consume," Joubert told HuffPost Australia.
"Today there are no safe guidelines on caffeine consumption but I would still limit it to 1-2 coffees per day. Caffeine is a diuretic which means you urinate a lot, leaving you feeling dehydrated."
Joubert also advises to be careful of your refined sugar intake found in lollies, pastries and ice cream.
"Refined sugar might give you an initial surge or energy but it will make you feel worse than before you had it," Joubert said. "When we are beyond tired our body is naturally drawn to sweet foods and energy drinks, however that energy surge won't last and won't do you or your baby any good."
When it comes to drinking alcohol, knowing the safe amount is tricky as advice on it always changes, Joubert said.
"We do know that it does reduce your milk supply and that the concentration of alcohol in your blood is the concentration of alcohol in your milk. Knowing this, it is best to plan ahead and express milk for the bub and enjoy your night off from breastfeeding.
"Alcohol does have an effect on your energy levels, ability to fall asleep and fat deposition. You never quite know how long your milk is contaminated for either, so I would advise avoiding it all together, especially in the first few months for the health of you and your baby -- you don't need that added stress."
My baby is going onto solids -- are supermarket baby foods healthy?
When a baby starts on solids it can be a confusing, daunting and trying time for parents. What should they eat, when and how much?
"With commercial foods out there they bring about a sense of ease, convenience and authority because: one, they provide the age in which a child can eat it so you don't really have to think; two, we are all busy so the packages can easily be put in a nappy bag or purse making it very desirable; and three, we trust that companies have our child's best interest at heart so we buy it with confidence," Joubert said.
However, for an item to be shelf stable and last, Joubert said it requires a concoction of chemicals such as fillers, artificial colours, flavours and/or high amounts of salt and sugar to preserve the contents.
"When a child starts solids we have a golden opportunity to help shape their taste preference. If we are feeding these commercial products with above average sweetness, saltiness or fake flavour, this is what your baby will become accustomed to," Joubert said.
"Apart from taste, the constant exposure to one smooth texture could develop picky eating issues later down the track, when children refuse food because of textural issues. However, they are very convenient so my suggestion would be to use them sparingly and only in emergencies."
When shopping for baby food, opt for products with the least amount of ingredients, no artificial flavours, colourings and fillers and an indication of the amount of sugar there is in the one serve.
Can my child eat what I eat?
There will come a time when your baby wants to try the foods that you try, and Joubert said this is an excellent time to introduce a variety of flavours and textures.
"When your child is 4-6 months or when they start to show signs that they are ready to move onto solids, I really implore parents to have their baby sit at the dining room table and join in on the meal by offering finger foods or purees made from meals that everyone is having," she said.
"Starting this early on and getting them used to being at the table will help them experience a variety of flavours and textures that puree pouches won't offer. This makes meal times enjoyable for the whole family, teaches valuable family traditions and brings about acceptance and enjoyment for the child."
How much is too much fruit juice?
Although an incredibly popular drink for toddlers and children, Joubert does not recommend giving young children fruit juice.
"Children from babies to school age do not need fruit juice. It is high in sugar and not necessary," she said.
"For babies and toddlers it can reduce their appetite for nutrient rich breastmilk, formula or solids and puts them at risk for developing picky eating tendencies. This means they end up not receiving the nutrients they need for happy moods, optimal development and growth."
Tooth decay and weight gain is associated with fruit juice and fruit drinks due to their high sugar content and ability to influence taste preference towards sweeter foods.
"For a balanced diet, babies and toddlers only need one serve of fruit per day and, for older children, two," Joubert said.
"I suggest serving this in the whole fruit form because when we juice we remove all the pulp and skin. The fibre and skin of the fruit contains a lot of vitamins and minerals and helps with satiety."
If there is an occasion where your child is offered fruit juice, Joubert recommends to dilute the juice with half water and offer it in a smaller glass than usual.
What are some healthy afternoon snacks for kids?
The kids have just got home from school and are eagerly waiting in the kitchen for delicious afternoon snacks to satisfy their endless hunger. Here are Joubert's healthy, quick and tasty afternoon snack ideas:
- Fruit smoothies -- a great way to get in the serve of calcium, fruit and a vegetable boost (such as spinach which is tasteless)
- Cheese and tomato crackers
- Banana muffins
- Vegetable sticks and hummus
- Greek yoghurt pots with a nut and seed crumble and drizzle of honey -- a great way to boost the nutritional value
- Celery boats -- filled with cream cheese, ricotta, peanut butter or nut butter
- Fruit skewers and yoghurt dipping sauce
- Plain corn chips with guacamole -- you can make your own chips but cutting tortillas into triangles, brushing them with some olive oil and baking them for 5-8 minutes
"Timing for snacks is very important," Joubert said. "I would suggest the afternoon snack to be at least one hour before meal time so they can build their hunger by the time their evening meal is ready. If they are standing around the kitchen hounding you for food, then offer them raw veggies to nibble on."
How can I encourage my child to eat more veggies?
Getting children to eat vegetables can seem impossible but there are few easy tricks to encourage them.
"The first step would be to seize the moment before they turn one -- exploration and getting messy with a variety of vegetables is a fundamental key in getting them to eat more," Joubert said.
"Around six months old (this age does vary between each child), interest in solids will start to show and this is the perfect time for you to present a wide variety of vegetables, prepared in different ways.
"Apart from variety in vegetables, variety in different textures is key for oral sensory exploration and acceptance. They could be served raw, roasted, mashed, pureed and steamed."
The second step to help encourage children to eat vegetables is to have your baby, toddler or child sit with you at the dinner table when it is feasible.
"We are our children's greatest role models and this includes what and how we eat," Joubert said.
"The third step is to get creative and break some cooking rules. Find ways to incorporate veggies into every meal and snack, and this can be done through adding pureed, grated or chopped veggies in smoothies, muffins, bolognese sauce, fritters, rice dishes, fish cakes, nuggets, pasta and patties."