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Complementary feeding means giving other foods in addition to breastmilk (or breastmilk substitutes).

Previously, the term ‘weaning’ was used, but there was some confusion about its meaning. Some people thought that weaning meant ‘stopping breastfeeding’; others thought it meant ‘the period during which the child changed from having only breastmilk to only family foods’. ‘Weaning foods’ could mean foods given when the child stopped breastfeeding or during the change from breastmilk to family foods.

Always using the term ‘complementary feeding’ (also when translated into a local language), should avoid this confusion and ensure that the recommended feeding for children aged over six months is: continued breastfeeding plus complementary foods.

When to start complementary feeding

Start complementary foods when a baby is six months old

Topic 6 explains why most babies need only breastmilk for the first six months of life. Most babies should start complementary foods when they are six months old because at this age:

Most children should breastfeed for two years and, if possible, beyond

Topic 7 discusses what foods to give children aged over six months. Breastfeeding on demand should continue until a child is 2 years old or beyond (unless the mother is HIV+: see below and Topic 6). As children grow, increasing amounts of complementary foods are needed to fill the gap between the nutrients supplied by breastmilk and children’s nutrient needs.

What to give and when

Advise parents to start by giving 1-2 teaspoons of semisolid food, for example porridge or mashed potato, and to add other foods to make good complementary meals (see below). By the age of eight months, babies also like ‘finger foods’, foods they can hold themselves, such as a chapati or banana. By the age of 1 year, most children can eat suitable family meals and snacks.

Prepare complementary foods hygienically - Keep clean

Good complementary foods:

Use a variety of foods for children’s meals

Advise parents to prepare meals that provide:

Young children also need snacks. Here are examples of good snacks for young children.

Circle the snacks used locally and add others to the list.









Porridges made with germinated or fermented flours. Young children need foods rich in energy and nutrients because their stomachs are small and they cannot eat large amounts at each meal. Porridge is the most common food for young children, but its energy and nutrient content is often too low to meet their needs fully. This is due to the high starch content of staple foods, such as maize, millet, sorghum, cassava and yams. During cooking, these flours absorb much water, which makes them bulky and thick. If water is added to make the porridge less thick and easier for young children to eat, its energy and nutrient content is further decreased. Children would need to eat large quantities of such diluted porridge in order to meet their energy and nutrient needs, but because of their small stomachs it is difficult for young children to consume large quantities.

Ways to make porridges more energy and nutrient-rich, and easy to eat are by:

Porridges made with germinated or fermented cereal flours do not thicken as much as ordinary porridges. They can be made with less water and so contain more energy and nutrients in a smaller volume. Other advantages of these flours are the following:


How to make germinated flour

1. Sort and clean the cereal grains.
2. Soak them for 1 day.
3. Drain and place in a sack or other covered container.
4. Store in dark, warm place for 2-3 days until the grains sprout.
5. Dry the sprouted grains in the sun.
6. Grind and sieve the flour.

How to make fermented porridge

There are many ways to make this. One way is to:

1. Grind cereal grains into flour.
2. Soak the flour in water (about 3 cups flour to 7 cups water).
3. Leave to ferment for 2-3 days.
4. Cook into porridge.

Sometimes flours from starchy roots (e.g. cassava) are made into fermented porridges.

Recipes for good porridges

You can use germinated or fermented flours to make good porridges. The recipes below suggest porridges that are energy and nutrient-rich.

They have been adapted from the following source: FAO. 2001. Improving nutrition through home gardening. A training package for preparing field workers in Africa, and WHO. 2000. Complementary feeding: family foods for breastfed children.

Millet and bean porridge (serves 4)

cowpea leaves
1 cup pigeon pea flour
3 cups millet flour (germinated, fermented or plain)
10-12 cups hot water

Sort the cowpea leaves, boil for about 5 minutes, dry and pound. Mix the pigeon pea and millet flours, add cold water and mix into a smooth paste. Add hot water to the paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the porridge is ready. Add 1 tablespoon of the dried cowpea leaves and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

To prepare a smaller amount of the same porridge (for one child’s portion), use:

1/4 cup pigeon pea flour
3/4 cup millet flour (germinated, fermented or plain)
1/4 tablespoon dried and pounded cowpea leaves

Zimbabwe multimix

1/2 cup maize flour (germinated, fermented or plain)
2 tablespoons bean flour
1 teaspoon chopped spinach
1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Mix maize and bean flour and cook to make a thick porridge. Add the spinach and vegetable oil and cook for another 2 minutes.

Cereal, groundnut, egg and spinach porridge
(for one meal for a breastfeeding child)

4-1/2 tablespoons thick cereal (e.g. maize) porridge made with germinated, fermented or plain flour
1 tablespoon groundnut paste or flour
1 egg
1 handful chopped spinach

Add the groundnuts to the porridge. Add the raw egg and spinach and cook for a few minutes.

Legume flours are useful for enriching cereal and root or tuber flours used to prepare infant feeds. Box 15 shows the step-by-step stages in the processing of cowpea, pigeon pea and soybean flours.


To prepare the legume flours, the legumes are cleaned and any rotten grains or unwanted materials are sorted out. The legumes are then roasted and milled or ground. The flour is sieved to remove any remaining large pieces.

How to make cowpea flour

1. Sort and wash cowpeas.
2. Roast them.
3. Peel them (optional).
4. Pound or grind them.
5. Sieve flour.

How to make pigeon pea flour

1. Sort and wash pigeon peas.
2. Soak in water for 2-3 minutes. Drain them.
3. Cover with banana leaves and leave for 6 days.
4. Roast them.
5. Mill or pound them into flour.
6. Sieve flour.

How to make soybean flour

1. Sort soybeans; do not wash them.
2. Bring water to a boil.
3. Drop beans into boiling water and boil for 10 minutes. Drain them.
4. Roast them.
5. Peel them.
6. Roast them again.
7. Mill or pound them.
8. Sieve flour.

How often to feed

Feed young children frequently

The appropriate number of feedings depends on the energy density of the local foods and the usual amounts consumed at each feeding. Young children have small stomachs, so they should eat often, with an increasing number of times as he/she grows older. For the average healthy and frequently breastfed child, complementary foods should be given as follows:

Encouraging young children to eat

Encourage young children to eat

Young children are often slow and messy eaters who are easily distracted. They eat more when their parents supervise mealtimes and actively and lovingly encourage them to eat (see Figure 10, page 68). This is especially important when children start complementary foods and until they are at least 3 years old.

Suggest that mothers, or the main caregivers:

Sometimes even healthy children are fussy eaters. Check that the child is not sick, undernourished or unhappy and then advise families to:

For more information on complementary feeding see: WHO. 2000. Complementary feeding: family foods for breastfed children (listed in Appendix 3).

Figure 10. Actively encouraging a young child to eat

Children whose mothers are HIV+

(also see Topic 6, page 55)

The risk of passing HIV through breastmilk increases if a child has other foods as well as breastmilk. Therefore an HIV+, breastfeeding woman should exclusively breastfeed for a few months. When she wants to stop, she should:

Children aged over 3 years

By the age of 3 years, most children can feed themselves. But families should continue to watch and encourage children at mealtimes, especially if they are sick. Give family meals that contain a variety of different foods (see Topic 3) and are not too spicy, sugary or salty.Give three meals and 1-2 snacks a day.Where families eat from the same pot, it is a good idea to give young children their own plate or bowl so they receive their fair share of food.


Before sharing this information with families, you may need to:

1. Find out. When children usually start complementary foods.What foods are given at different ages. How foods are prepared (hygiene and consistency). How often children of different ages are fed. Who feeds the child, where and how. When and how HIV+ mothers start replacement feeding. What the blocks to the better feeding of young children are (there are likely to be several related to what children eat and how they are fed). Which blocks are the most important. Which should you try to remove first. What families say their problems are in feeding young children (e.g. mothers’ time constraints).

2. Prioritize. Decide which information is most important to share with groups or individual families.

3. Decide whom to reach. For example: mothers and caregivers of young children; other relatives who feed children, influence feeding practices (e.g. fathers) or can help mothers; staff of child care centres and nurseries.

4. Choose communication methods. For example: discussions with women’s groups and at young child clinics; demonstrations of complementary meals and snacks, and how to feed them.

Examples of questions to start a discussion
(choose only a few questions that deal with the information families need most)

When should most children start to eat foods in addition to breastmilk?

Which are good foods for children aged 6-8 months?

How often should we feed complementary meals to children aged 6-8 months? 9-11 months?

Do we give young children snacks? What do we give? Are there other local snacks that are good for young children?

Do you use germinated or fermented flours to make porridge? Why are porridges that are made with germinated or fermented flours good foods for young children?

Do we actively encourage young children to eat? Discuss who feeds a child, where the child is fed and what utensils are used. Demonstrate how to feed a young child.

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