Rationale: Easy to cook home made preparations are hygenic and healthy foods for the growing baby
It is well accepted that breast milk is the best food for an infant. Fortunately, in India, most rural mothers are able to breast-feed their children for prolonged periods. In fact, this is a boon to Indian children as otherwise the prevalence of under-nutrition among them would have been much higher. However, often, children are solely breast-fed even beyond the age of one year in the belief that breast-milk alone is adequate for the child until he/she is able to pick up food and eat. This practice results in under-nutrition among young children. Working mothers, on the other hand are unable to breast-feed their children for longer periods, as they go to work outside.
Foods that are regularly fed to the infant, in addition to breast-milk, providing sufficient nutrients are known as supplementary or complementary foods. These could be liquids like milk or semi-solids like 'kheer' in the case of infants or solid preparations like rice etc., in the case of children over the age of one year.
At birth, mother's milk alone is adequate for the infant. Requirements of all the nutrients progressively increase with the infant's growth. Simultaneously, the breastmilk secretion in the mother comes down with time. Thus, infants are deprived of adequate nutrients due to the dual factors of increased nutrient requirements and decreased availability of breast-milk. Usually, these changes occur at about 6 months of age. Hence, promotion of optimal growth in infants, calls for introduction of adequate food supplements in addition to continued breast feeding, from the age of 6 months onwards
Low-cost food supplements can be prepared at home from commonly used ingredients such as cereals (wheat, rice, ragi, Jowar, bajra, etc.); pulses (grams/ dhals), nuts and oilseeds (groundnut, sesame, etc.), oils (groundnut oil, sesame oil etc.) and sugar and jaggery. Such supplements are easily digested by all infants, including those with severe malnutrition. The impression that only the commercially available supplementary foods are nutritious is not correct. Some examples of low cost complementary foods
Weaning foods based on cereal-pulse-nut and sugar/ jaggery combinations will provide good quality protein, adequate calories and other protective nutrients. Since infants cannot consume bulky complementary food, in sufficient quantities, energy-rich foods like fats and sugars should be included in such preparations. Infants can also be fed green leafy vegetables (GLVs), which are rich, yet inexpensive, sources of vitamins and minerals. However, greens should be well cleaned before cooking lest the infants develop loose motions. Dietary fibre in green leafy vegetables can, by itself, promote the bowel movements leading to loose motions in infants. Since GLVs are rich in dietary fibre, it is advisable to initially feed only the juice of the GLVs after cooking them properly. Infants should be introduced to different vegetables and fruits gradually. It should, however, be remembered that these dietary articles should be thoroughly cooked and mashed before feeding. In families which can afford egg yolk and meat soup can be introduced. At about one year of age, the child should share the family diet.
Flours of germinated cereals, which are rich in the enzyme alpha-amylase, constitute ARFs. Even small amounts of this type of foods liquefy and reduce the bulk of the cereal-based diet. Thus, ARFs help in increasing the energy density of weaning gruels and in reducing its bulk as well.
Mothers can add ARF to increase the digestibility of the low-cost weaning foods prepared at home. Preparation of ARF is very simple and can be done by mothers at home.
Infants cannot eat large quantities of food in one sitting at a given time. So, they should be fed small quantities at frequent intervals (3-4 times a day). Also, the food should be of semi-solid consistency for easy swallowing. When such semi-solid foods are offered initially, the infant tends to spit it out. This should not be mistaken as dislike for that food. The fact is that the young infant cannot achieve full coordination needed for the act of swallowing and hence, brings out the food by movements of its tongue. Physiological maturity of swallowing the semi-solid food develops when the food is regularly given every day.
It is important to ensure that hygienic practices are scrupulously followed. All the dietary ingredients should be thoroughly cleaned. Vegetables should be washed well to remove contaminants/ parasites/ pesticides before cutting. Vegetables should preferably be steam-cooked to reduce cooking losses. At the time of preparation and feeding of the recipes, mother should observe proper personal hygiene and the utensils used for cooking should be thoroughly washed or sterilized, wherever possible. A number of pre-cooked and ready-to-eat foods can be prepared for use as complementary foods. Such foods should be stored in clean bottles or tins. As feeding is likely to be time consuming, the cup or the plate from which the recipe is being fed to the infant should be kept covered to protect it from flies. Most often, diarrhea is caused by unhygienic practices adopted by mothers. The weaning foods which are properly cleaned and well-cooked are safe even for young infants.