Complementary food serves as an important aspect in ensuring proper growth for infants. This will be the time whereby mothers seek more choices to bring variety into their baby’s diet and provide more nutrients in their daily intake mainly because breastfeeding no longer is sufficient to support their child’s growth. Feeding a child is important to prevent malnutrition and faltering growth in children. Many may be predisposed to stunting risks if proper nutrition is not advocated from a young age. Malaysia is currently seeing a surge in stunting among children below 5 years of age whereby almost 20% of children are stunted (UNICEF, 2019).
As recommended by the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents (2013), babies are to start their solid feeds at 6 months of age. During the exploration phase of feeding, it important to ensure babies receive enough energy for their growth. The needs of energy intake increase with age. In addition, feeding should also meet the growing child’s requirements of several nutrients, particularly protein, iron, zinc and some fat-soluble vitamins (A and D).
As babies explore with their taste buds and begin their journey in eating, mothers and fathers can decide to expose their child to various types of food. The important thing to note is that their baby is given enough energy and micronutrients to support its growth. The baby’s needs are deemed high at this stage of its growth therefore it is imperative to ensure the baby’s diet comprises sufficient food and nutrients. Babies are encouraged to consume food that contains energy dense choices such as rice and potatoes. As a general guide, babies between 6-8 months of age should be given half a cup of rice porridge at each meal. This can gradually be increased after 9 months of age and inclusion of different types of vegetables in the meals.
Mothers who are exploring new foods to introduce to their babies can consider including red rice into their exploration. This way they will be able to introduce a new superfood to their babies and at the same time increase their babies’ taste acceptance towards red rice. Infants who are transitioning to complementary feeds are entering a phase where any food introduced is new and requires their acceptance. Therefore, mothers can take this opportunity to include foods that have high nutritional value to improve their babies’ diet quality as it is essential to incorporate foods with high nutritional value to their babies’ diet.
However, it is important to note that it is advisable to introduce it after 9 months of age as the baby’s digestion would be able to handle it. The digestion of red rice is different from white rice as it takes longer to digest due to its high fibre content. In terms of nutritional content of red rice, it is loaded with fibre, vitamin B1 and B2, iron, zinc, and calcium, thus, making it a wholesome and nutritious meal for your baby. In addition, it is packed with antioxidants. Its low glycaemic index properties will also aid in providing longer satiety for your baby and overall satisfaction with the meal.
Deciding on what food to be included can often be an adventurous exploration or a confusing decision for young parents. Therefore, a simple guide to ensure parents are on the right track would be to choose foods that is locally grown and wholesome, example, red rice as its packed with nutrients. In addition, its important to note that inclusion of different food groups is important to ensure proper growth. Exploration of food should begin with one type of food at a time and introduced in stages to create familiarity. Also, looking out for alternatives to replace traditional choices such as plain white rice would increase the quality of the feeds too. As depicted, red rice suits this as it provides more nutrients and can be a nutrient dense food for babies.
While parents are excited to begin their journey of feeding their child, they must also be wary that it would start with some disappointments at the start. This is mainly because as babies’ transition from milk to solids, they would reject some foods that exhibit stronger taste to them. However, be patient and continue to feed the same type of food repeatedly to familiarize baby with the taste. Some examples of how red rice can be incorporated to your child’s diet is by preparing porridge from red rice. This way the rice will be softer and easier to be swallowed and accepted. Once babies have accepted the taste of red rice, incorporation of vegetables can be explored.
Ensuring mix and match of food groups in babies’ diet is important to bring more variety and nutrients into their daily intake. When palatability is achieved with one type of food, a new food can further be introduced or mixed with other vegetables/fruits can be incorporated. Parents should be mindful that overfeeding your child can lead to weight gain that may progress into their later childhood and adulthood, therefore, keeping in check the energy requirement is an essential aspect in complementary feeding. One method to keep this in check is to monitor your child’s hunger cues that could be the directive to feeding them right. A baby would seek to be fed when they are hungry and by training them to recognize this would prevent overfeeding and unnecessary weight gain. In addition, babies would be more in control in recognising their hunger cues and program themselves to better feeding practices.
Finally, the journey to feeding your child can be an exciting one. Hence, practice to plan meals as it would help parents to ensure they have covered enough energy and nutrient dense food in their child’s diet. Introduction of superfoods at a young age helps the child’s acceptance to these foods and they would be more familiar with its taste. While these are exciting times, be cautious to not overfeed as it could have other health implications to the child in the long run.
Guest Author: Assc. Prof. Dr. Satvinder Kaur, Senior Lecturer, Nutrition with Wellness, Faculty of Applied Sciences, UCSI University Kuala Lumpur.