Need for a nutrient rich complementary food

A new mother’s guide to complementary feeding and nutrition

It is true that for the first 6 months after you give birth, you won’t have to worry much about your baby’s nutrition, as your breast milk will take care of it well. However, after those half a dozen months, your infant’s body will start demanding more than just breast milk. And feeding him complementary food that is nutritious and easily digestible will become important. These complementary foods can not only bridge energy gaps and increase immune functions, but can also supply the essential macro and micronutrients that mother’s milk alone cannot provide. So, read on and find out everything you need to know.

Kinds of complementary foods

Now, complementary feeding is always started when the baby shows interest in the foods you eat, starts teething, puts things in his mouth and starts to control tongue movements better. But the question is, what should you feed him?

  • Specially prepared complementary foods are those that are cooked only for the baby and different from what everyone else in the family eats. For instance, mashed potatoes, pureed fruits or oats porridge of a fluidic consistency are foods that are specifically made for an infant.
  • Complementary foods can also be the same as what the rest of the family eats, but is tweaked to suit the chewing and swallowing abilities of the baby. Also, they should be devoid of sugar and salt. Spices (not too spicy ones) can be added sparingly and gradually to introduce flavours.

Features of a good complementary food

A healthy and wholesome complementary food should:

  • Be hygienically prepared and safe to eat for the baby. The temperature should be moderate, there should be no bones or hard pieces, and the food should be devoid of toxins or pathogens.
  • Contain adequate protein, carbohydrate, and nutrients such as folate, iron, calcium, and vitamins C and A.
  • Be as per the child’s palate, age and readiness. The food should also be easy to prepare and include locally available ingredients.

Consistency of nutrient-rich complementary foods

Consistency of the complementary food is very important, as the age at which infants will develop their ability to swallow a particular food, will depend entirely on their neuromuscular development.

  • At 6 months, infants can be fed pureed, mashed and semi-solid foods. You can prepare these with cereals, vegetables, fruits, meat, and other protein-rich foods.
  • At 8 months, most babies can easily eat finger foods, and so the consistency of complementary foods should change from pureed to ground, mashed, or diced, depending on the changing oral skills of the child.
  • Around 10 months, you can introduce lumpy solid foods, and by 12 months, most kids will be able to consume foods of solid consistency. So, in order to ensure the optimal growth of your child, you should keep changing the consistency of the complementary foods, according to his age.

Also, it is important to remember that foods that lead to choking or can block airways should be completely avoided.

Some examples of complementary foods prepared at home

  • For infants between 6-11 months: They can be given thick porridge prepared from maize or millet with added milk, soy, groundnuts, or a mix of pureed foods made from potatoes, maize, millet, or rice, mixed with fish, beans or crushed groundnuts, and green vegetables.

    Eggs, fruits, bread, yoghurt, milk, and puddings made with milk, bread or chapatti with butter, ghee, groundnut paste or honey, and cooked potatoes are considered the most nutrient-dense foods for snacking.

  • For kids between 12-23 months: They can be given finely chopped foods prepared from potatoes, maize or millet, or rice mixed with fish or beans or crushed groundnuts and green vegetables. You can also provide a thick porridge with milk, soy, ground nuts, and a little sugar.

Here are some food items that can fulfil the requirement of the following micronutrients:

Vitamin A and K: Liver (any type), red palm oil, egg yolk, orange coloured fruits and vegetables, and dark green vegetables 

Zinc: Liver (any type), chicken, fish, mutton, shellfish, and egg yolk 

Calcium: Milk or milk products, tofu, and soybeans

Vitamin C: Fresh fruits, tomatoes, peppers, and green leafy vegetables

While introducing complementary foods, make sure you start with foods with one ingredient and then move on to foods with two or three ingredients. Also, introduce allergenic foods one by one so that you can detect symptoms if any. Always ensure that your child is in a sitting position when he is eating.