Most parents are often puzzled by the various aspects of baby food. Questions related to the introduction of semi-solids, solids or even a combination of both have been some of the most common concerns. According to Amrita Desai, a child nutrition expert, your baby should be given the appropriate quantity of different foodstuffs at each stage of their life. The transition from exclusive breastfeeding to ‘family foods’ is referred to as complementary feeding. However, you must do so ONLY after consulting the child’s paediatrician.
Characteristics of complementary food
The eight main features of the complementary food are:
- Rich in energy, protein and micronutrients like iron, calcium, Vitamin A etc.
- Neither spicy nor salty
- Easily consumed by the baby
- Easy to prepare
- Available locally at affordable rates
- Age appropriate consistency
- Easy to digest
Things to remember about complementary food
There are a few essential aspects regarding the complementary food you wish to give your baby:
- Time: As per the current WHO guidelines, parents should not introduce their child to solid or semi-solid food before she turns six-months-old. In fact, it must be consumed in addition to breastmilk.
- Adequacy: The food should be served and consumed in adequate portions and consistency to meet your baby’s nutritional requirements.
- Safety: Prepare and serve the meals in a hygienic and in a safe manner (i.e free from contamination). Eg: They could use sippers or sippy-cups instead of feeding bottles to reduce any chances of contamination. Ensure that your hands, as well as your baby’s hands, are washed thoroughly before every meal.
- Texture: The food should be ideal for the child to consume at a specific age. Moreover, it is important that you do not force feed your baby. Your little one can choose for herself and eats only when she is hungry. For instance, when your baby is above the age of nine-months, she could give ‘finger food’ or even small chunks of fruits like banana, watermelon as well as cubes of cottage cheese (Paneer) to chew on.
- Active responses: Your baby’s food habits are often influenced by the family’s routine and habits. As parents, you should be actively involved in catering to your baby’s food requirements. i.e grasping hunger cues and encouraging her to eat when she is hungry.
Seek the paediatrician’s advice on frequency of complementary food for your baby
Feeding complementary food to your baby
Here are seven simple principles that could ensure that your child grows accustomed to complementary food in an enjoyable and stress-free manner:
Introduce complementary food at the age of six months while you continue breastfeeding her. This is because your baby becomes bigger, sometimes twice her birth weight, and is more active. Exclusive breastfeeding would not be sufficient to meet her energy and nutritional needs. Hence, it is important for you to gradually introduce her to solid food.
Practice responsive feeding. Not only is it important to provide your child with nutritious food, but it is also crucial to know how to ensure that your baby consumes it. The questions of – who is feeding the baby, when and how she is being fed, are facts that are noteworthy. In doing so, remember the following:
- Feed your baby slowly and patiently. Do not force feed her.
- If she is above two-years-old, encourage her to eat by herself.
- If your child refuses certain types of food, try providing her with alternative foodstuffs and encourage her to taste them.
- Minimise distractions during a meal – Eg: TV, Mobile phones etc.
- Talk to your baby while feeding them and maintain an eye-to-eye contact while doing so. This helps to not only learn more but also strengthen the bond of love between your baby and you.
Feed small quantities of solid or semi-solid food to your baby at the age of six-month. Gradually, increase the quantum of food being served. Upon consuming complementary food, your baby is likely to have a lower intake of breastmilk. It is hence important to ensure that the food is not thin or diluted. This would your child receive the nutrition and energy that she needs.
As the child grows up, increase the consistency of the food. Offer your child a wider variety of meals to help her adapt easily to an adult diet during the growing years. The food should be thick and not be able to drip or spill out of a spoon. Don’t serve your baby nuts unless they have been ground. This is because your child is yet to learn how she should chew her food.
Increase the frequency of complementary food as your baby gets older.
Serve a wide range of nutrient-rich food to your little one. Your baby needs to have satisfactory levels of iron, proteins, calcium and even vitamins. Meats products, fish, dairy products, pulses, lentils, vegetables and fruits that are rich in Carotene such as carrots or even papaya, pumpkin etc. should be part of your baby’s daily diet.
When your baby is ill, ensure that she has sufficient fluids and encourage her to eat her soft and favourite food. As she gets better, feed her as much as she needs so as to bring her nutritional levels to a state of normalcy.
For more information on food for your child, refer to the book: GOOD FOOD FOR KIDS – A scientific guide to your child’s nutrition – by Dr Umesh Vaidya and Krisha Krishnani