What are complementary foods?April 3, 2008
Complementary (Weaning Foods)
In the first year of life, infants undergo periods of rapid growth when a good diet is crucial. In fact, nutrition in the early years of life is a major determinant of healthy growth and development throughout childhood and of good health in adulthood. Pediatricians and nutritionists have established nutritional guidelines to meet the specific needs of these early years. While there is great variety in the types of foods each infant and young child will gradually add to his or her diet, some generalizations may be helpful. If you are at all unsure about what or how to feed your infant during the first year of life, consult with your healthcare provider.
Breast milk is the ideal food for infants during the first six months of life. It contains still-undiscovered substances that cannot be reproduced artificially and its overall nutrient composition is superior to any alternative, including infant formula. In spite of its superiority, breast milk cannot provide all of the nutrients and calories that allow infants to thrive after the first six months of life. All infants should continue to receive breast milk for at least the first year and preferably for the second, but other, more nutritious foods should be added by the time an infant reaches six months of age. Formula-fed infants usually require only formula for their first year, but they should also be introduced to other kinds of foods once they reach six months of age.
From the age of six months until approximately two years, infants and young children should gradually be introduced to different types of semi-solid, solid or complementary foods as they gradually transition from a diet centered on breast milk or formula. This transition period helps the child to slowly become accustomed to eating adult-type foods and familiarizes them with a wide range of textures and tastes.
Most infants begin the transition from liquid to solid foods with the introduction of infant cereals. When mixed with breast milk or formula, cereal can be a good starting place. Eating cereals from a spoon takes practice, but most 6-month olds are able to adapt quickly. After introducing cereal, many mothers next begin offering pureed or mashed vegetables and fruits. Whether prepared industrially or at home, these foods are a pleasant introduction to new tastes and textures. Gradually, the smooth, pureed foods can be replaced with foods of more solid texture, such as meat or fish based meals, until the infant begins to eat table food.
Introducing your infant to complementary foods is a gradual and, at times, trying process. The key to success is to gradually move from fairly bland and smooth foods to foods that are more robust in texture, taste, and smell. Be patient and have fun—this exciting and challenging stage will surely produce many funny memories.
Different Types of Industrially Prepared Complementary Foods
Many industrially prepared complementary foods are available to help your infant make the transition from breast milk or formula to solid food. While some parents choose to prepare their own foods, others find that industrially prepared foods are convenient, safe, and nutritious alternatives. Complementary foods are formulated to satisfy the nutritional needs of infants and young children. Some types are sold dried and need reconstituting (such as infant cereals) while others are sold ready to eat (such as jars of baby food.) Meat, vegetables and fruit are major ingredients. Some are based on cereals, some on pasta. They run the whole gamut from biscuits, rusks, and “main meals” to desserts and drinks.