Children who are well fed during the first two years of life are more likely to stay healthy for the rest of their childhood. Breast-milk alone can no longer provide all the energy and nutrients needed by a young child after six months of age.

Complementary foods may be specially prepared foods, or can be made by adapting family foods. They should be mashed to make them easy to eat and should be high in nutrients. They should be given in small amounts three times a day at first, increasing to five times daily by 12 months. Start with a few teaspoons and gradually increase the amount and variety.

Complementary foods need to meet all the nutritional needs of the growing child. The most difficult needs to fill are usually:

  • energy – from fats and sugar, as young children cannot eat enough staple food
  • iron and zinc – from red meats, offal, egg yolks, pulses and dark green leaves
  • vitamin A – from red palm oil, green and orange coloured vegetables and egg yolks.

Adding a small amount of fat or oil to a child’s meal gives extra energy and helps make food soft and tasty.

Many health centres keep a chart of a young child’s weight. Monitoring their growth is a useful way to know if a child is eating enough and is healthy.

Discussion

  • At what age do most children start complementary foods in our area. Discuss whether this is too early or too late.
  • Are foods from animals eaten in our area? Which of these are regularly given to young children?
  • A good mix of complementary foods each day is:

A staple + a pulse + an animal food + green leaves or an orange-coloured vegetable or fruit.

Families can use all these foods to make one meal, or they can use, for example:
• staple + pulse + green leaves at one meal
• staple + animal food + fruit at another meal.

  • Do families in our area usually provide these good mixes of food? If not, how could we encourage them to do so?
  • Fat and sugar are very important sources of energy for young children. How can mothers provide more fat and sugar in their children’s diet?

Other ideas for first complementary foods

  • Mash avocados, bananas, or ripe papaya
  • Add groundnut paste, oil or milk to porridge
  • Add a small amount of pounded fish or chicken with steamed, green leaves to the staple food
  • Add an egg yolk and pounded lentils to the staple food