The concept of a focused ethnographic study (FES) emerged as a new methodology to answer specific sets of questions that are required by agencies, policymakers, programme planners or by project implementation teams in order to make decisions about future actions with respect to social, public health or nutrition interventions, and for public-private partnership activities. This paper describes the FES on complementary feeding that was commissioned by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and highlights findings from studies conducted in three very different country contexts (Ghana, South Africa and Afghanistan) burdened by high levels of malnutrition in older infants and young children (IYC). The findings are analysed from the perspective of decision-making for future interventions. In Ghana, a primary finding was that in urban areas the fortified, but not instant cereal, which was being proposed, would not be an appropriate intervention, given the complex balancing of time, costs and health concerns of caregivers. In both urban and rural South Africa, home fortification products such as micronutrient powders and small quantity, lipid-based nutrient supplements (LNS) are potentially feasible interventions, and would require thoughtful behaviour change communication programmes to support their adoption. Among the important results for future decision-making for interventions in Afghanistan are the findings that there is little cultural recognition of the concept of special foods for infants, and that within households food procurement for IYC are in the hands of men, whereas food preparation and feeding are women's responsibilities.