Parents are subjected to all kinds of contradictory advice when it comes to child nutrition or the first complementary foods for your baby.
Breast milk is the optimal nutrient mix for infants but what happens after six months?
Yes, introduction of solid foods. One of the common complementary food we give is blended flour commonly referred to as ‘unga wa lishe’ that containing cereals, grains, vegetables and sometimes whole foods like sardines that is used to make porridge for babies. The preparation of various combinations of such flour has been carried out without understanding of the correct purpose and balance. Improper combination and balancing of the components is what causes stomach upsets, constipation and food dislike among babies.
Well, the idea of blended flour is built on the philosophy of balanced diet; a diet consisting of a variety of different types of food which provide adequate amount of nutrients necessary to maintain good health.
Foods containing proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals in right amount makes up a balanced diet.
Now you know the food groups, contents and functions, let’s go back to our flour composition.
Simple math: mixture of maize, millet, rice, potatoes equals single nutrient – carbohydrates, soybeans, groundnuts, sardines equals protein. So, you’re mixing five food groups to obtain only two nutrients, and call that nutritious?
Sadly, the child will be fed such crap for months and you’ll be complaining my child won’t eat, my child doesn’t like food! Oh really? I dare you to drink that uji from morning till dawn and let me hear how you loved it!
Before I tell you the right combination, let me take you back on preparation because most people think it’s just mixing and milling of the grains.
Effective processing begins with the best exploration of raw materials (here referred to as ingredients) from the field or marketplace.
The ingredients should be harvested in due time, kept in proper storage conditions, clean and not damaged by insects. Before processing, ingredients should be properly cleaned to remove any dirt and water used for cleaning should not be re used for other ingredients.
Further processing of ingredients before mixing differ significantly between the grains. Unfortunately, most food producers do not take into account the proper steps which is crucial for food safety to optimise consumers health.
The goal of making blended flour is nutrient enrichment to a grain source type of food.
Targeted nutrients are proteins, vitamins and minerals, so the additional ingredients should aim at complementation and not just quantification.
For instance, food containing very little amount of protein like maize should be mixed with high protein food like soy, beans, peas or peanuts.
Let’s take a mixture of maize (81%) and soy (19%), from 100g of flour; a child will get 422 total Kcal, out of which, 15% Kcal from protein, 75 per cent Kcal from carbohydrates. (Those who ditched mathematics, I can see your faces).
Okay, don’t get confused, the point here is mixing should consider correct ratio of ingredients and their nutrient content. But again, even with correct balance of ingredients, quantity of cereals is important, the more the merrier does not apply here. Blended flour containing nuts is not recommended for children aged between six months and one year to prevent allergies and the risk of aflatoxins.
Even though the idea of having blended flour is to meet nutrition needs of the infant is vital to consider implication of each of the elements in the combination.
There is an important and urgent need to reevaluate the combination formulas used and design appropriate modifications that will meet local and international nutritional standards.
Infant feeding isn’t rocket science, seek correct information mix with a bit of common sense, you’ll be safe.