Weaning is the process of accustoming an infant to adult food. This is a process that is usually complete, by and large, by the age of two years. By adult food, we are talking about the different types of foods in terms of different tastes, textures and consistencies.
This article will consider the food groups only. A subsequent blog will talk about important points to note when weaning and will include things like when to introduce what foods and what to avoid at certain ages.
Successful weaning means that the child will gain weight as recommended as well as avoid malnutrition conditions that are associated with deficiencies of micro-nutrients in diet.
Breast milk is rich in all required nutrients of infants and should be continued as long as possible. The recommended age is up to two years. After six months of age, an infant’s requirement of nutrients is more than breast milk alone can provide. In addition, their digestive system is better developed and that is why weaning is recommenced at this age.
So, what are the foods that every care giver should factor in as they plan their weaning menus and schedules?
- Sources – Proteins are sourced from animal foods like beef and chicken as well as plant sources like beans and nuts.
- Importance – Proteins are the building block of all cells and as children are growing both in size and complexity, they required adequate amounts of protein for normal growth. Lack of adequate proteins leads to reduced growth or stunted growth as well as conditions like kwashiorkor.
- Sources – Carbohydrates are the sources of energy for the body and mind and thus it is essentially for all children to allow them to grow and explore the world around them. Carbohydrates are sourced from maize, rice, wheat, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and others.
- Importance – Lack of carbohydrates means that children are dull and not able to interact well with others and their environment hence resulting in reduced growth and development and conditions like Marasmus.
- Vitamin A
- Sources – Vitamin is sourced from foods that have reddish pigment in them. These include carrots, pumpkins, pawpaw, tomatoes and many others. Also found in liver, milk and egg York.
- Importance – Vitamin A is essential for proper development of the eyes and lack of it results in a preventable illness like night blindness and xerophthalmia. Night blindness is one of the top causes of preventable childhood blindness in developing countries.
- Vitamin C
- Sources – Vitamin C is sourced from citric fruits and these include oranges and tangerines, cabbage, cauliflower amongst others.
- Importance – Vitamin C is essential in the development of soft tissues like gums as well as in maintaining a healthy immune system. Lack of it causes scurvy which is characterized commonly by wide spread bleeding gums in children. It also makes one prone to recurrent colds as well as development of ulcers in the mouth.
- Vitamin Bs
- Sources – There are many subtypes of vitamins in the B group and these are found in varying proportions in most meats and vegetables. Thus a balanced diet containing the foods mentioned in the other categories will ensure an adequate supply of vitamin Bs.
- Importance – Vitamin Bs have many uses in the body that include being components of enzymes, necessary in the development and maintenance of hair, skin, mucous membranes, metabolism, brain and nervous system and the hematological (blood) system.
- Sources – Iodine is mostly found in seafoods but trace amounts are also found in soil, water and most foods. However, due to the efforts of WHO, salt used in the homes is fortified with iodine. Some other foods as well are fortified with iodine.
- Importance – Iodine is essential in the functions of the thyroid gland and a person with a thyroid that is not functioning well is predisposed to many problems as thyroxine (hormone produced by the thyroid gland) is used in almost all parts of the body. Severe lack of iodine will lead to dwarfism, mental problems and poor learning.
- Sources – Calcium is sourced from animal milk like cow milk, infant formula, eggs, soy sources, sesame seeds, spinach and many others. (Check blog on sources of calcium.)
- Importance – Lack of calcium in diet of children will lead to poorly developed bones (rickets) as well as poorly developed teeth. Calcium is also necessary in development of other tissues in the body as well as controlling many functions of the body.
- Sources – Iron is available from meats like chicken, beef, fish and chicken. It is also available from green vegetables.
- Importance – Lack of iron leads to anemia which will result in a child who is dull, lacks energy and predisposed to repeated minor infections. Chronic anemia can also lead to heart failure as the heart is forced to work harder to ensure that oxygen gets to tissues.
- Sources – Zinc is available in meats like beef, wholemeal wheatflour and bread, nuts, cereals and some types of fish.
- Importance – Zinc is an important contributor to a well maintained immune system, preventing and treating diarrheas, having good skin and stimulating healthy appetite.
- Sources – Roughage is sourced from fruits like pawpaw and mango, green vegetables like kales and spinach as well as cereals like weetabix.
- Importance – Roughage is essential for proper bowel movement to prevent constipation in children which can be severe enough to cause intestinal obstruction. Constipation in children is way too common and yet it is so easily avoided. (Check blog on constipation in children)