Tips to make homemade complementary food more nutrient-dense
For the first few months of an infant’s life, breast milk is nature’s most perfect food for the baby. However, after a baby crosses the 6-month mark, this will no longer be enough. To keep him or her healthy and help develop at the right pace, you need to start introducing other nutrient-rich foods into your baby’s diet. This process is known as complementary feeding. However, complementary foods should not be used as a substitute for breastfeeding. They should be simple and yet rich in energy and nutrients, to add on to the power of breast milk. Such foods should be easy to make too, from locally available ingredients.
Complementary foods you can start with
Local staples are widely used as complementary foods when the transition from breast milk just begins. Staples refer to the main types of food eaten by a community. These generally include rice, wheat, millet, potatoes, plantain, etc. Staples can be easily milled and cooked to make porridge. They are rich sources of energy, and staples like potatoes may also provide a certain amount of protein. Note that cereals have very low levels of protein. However, staple porridges are not rich in minerals like calcium, iron, or zinc. In fact, the phytates in cereals can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb these minerals.
Thus, to prepare nutrient-dense foods for your baby, you will need to mix the staples with other ingredients. These ingredients will bridge the nutrient and energy gaps. Here are a few things you can add to make your baby’s porridge a calorie and nutrient dense food.
Add pulses and oil seeds
Pulses and oil seeds are a rich source of protein. Some of them are also good sources of energy and healthy fats. Soy beans, groundnuts, pumpkin seeds and cashew nuts are examples of pulses and oil seeds with high fat content. However, like cereals, these foods also contain phytates that are not destroyed by cooking. Instead, you can remove these anti-nutrients by soaking the ingredients in water before cooking them. Do not use the same water to cook the pulses.
Add non-vegetarian food
If you want to introduce your child to non-vegetarian food, you can start now, as they are amongst the most nutrient-dense foods. For example, eggs and dairy products are great sources of protein. Similarly, fish and chicken are rich in iron and zinc. Small servings of liver can give your infant vitamin A, folate, and iron. Including these foods in your child’s porridge is easy. When it comes to eggs, you can just boil them and mash them up. Similarly, chicken can be boiled and shredded. If you’re wary about giving your child meat, you can simply add chicken soup to her porridge.
Add fresh vegetables
All vegetables are rich sources of different vitamins and minerals. For example, spinach is best known for its high iron content, while carrots are known for their vitamin A content. When you introduce vegetables to your child’s diet, do so one vegetable at a time. Boil the vegetables and mash them into the porridge to prepare the best nutrient-dense foods. These vegetables also add flavour to your child’s porridge. Introducing new foods one at a time ensures that you can identify allergic reactions easily.
Make the porridge differently
Most mothers cook cereals and pulses for the baby’s porridge in water. Why not cook it differently? Add calories and nutrients, replace water with healthier substitutes. For example, you can use chicken stock to cook the porridge. This will add flavour and nutrition too. Similarly, you can cook porridge in skimmed milk or water in which dal has been boiled. To maximize the nutritive value of your baby’s food, prepare fresh food for every meal and do not reheat it. Every time you heat the food, along with inviting harmful bacteria, you also lose nutritive elements.
When your baby is 6 to 7 months old, you should be feeding him complementary foods thrice a day. He or she might consume just a few spoonfuls at a time. As your infant grows older, you can increase the quantity of food eaten at every meal, and also the frequency of complementary feeds up to 5 times a day. Lastly, do not give your baby a feeding bottle. Instead, feed him with a small spoon from a bowl or cup.