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Adding nutritional value to food

Some useful ideas to improve nutrition for both children and adults


Footsteps magazine issues on a wooden desk.

From: Adding value to food – Footsteps 65

Practical ideas for adding value to food

Increasing the nutritional value of available food is often easy to do at low cost, simply by combining foods and fruits in different ways. Here are some useful ideas to improve nutrition for both children and adults.  

Ideas for healthy eating  

Tearfund has worked in Makamba Province, Burundi, for several years with communities and displaced people living in camps as a result of the civil war in Burundi. As this emergency phase comes to an end, many people are now returning to their homes from these camps and from Tanzania. Although the camps are closing, public health educators are still working with local people. They are sharing ideas on how to prepare cheap, nutritious meals from locally produced foods to help prevent malnutrition. 

‘The reaction from the community has been very positive, because we only use locally available foods’ says Wilson, one of the public health educators. ‘People don’t always know how to cook meals that are nutritionally rich. Now they do. After teaching people, we take time to go to different houses and make sure people are applying the new techniques they have learnt. So we are finding that it has a good impact.’ 

‘People have learnt how to prepare porridge using palm oil. Everyone has access to palm oil here,’ comments Bosco, another educator. The communities are also taught to prepare more nutritious meals using fish and vegetables. ‘We can see the impact on the health of the children. Families come to us and say, “Now this is the result”. Even rich people come to test the food and porridge and say, “This is very good quality!” When we see people happy with what we are doing, that’s a great satisfaction for us,’ says Bosco. 

Anastasie is a mother of seven who attended one of the cooking demonstrations. ‘Everyone likes the taste of this nutritious porridge. Before, we were able to prepare porridge, and we grew peanuts, maize and sorghum. But now we have learnt how to mix these foods to make our porridge nutritionally rich. We are no longer exposed to sicknesses. Before, the children were sick all the time, but now they are much healthier. We have also learned about sowing crops in lines to make them easier to weed, making compost, using manure and controlling soil erosion.’  

Case study from DMT Tearfund, Burundi. 
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Frying foods

Using a lot of oil or fat in our diet is not good for our health. However, oil can be an important source of energy, especially for people who struggle with hunger and lack of nutrients.

In Ecuador, South America, a popular traditional food is fried corn which is commonly called maíz tostado in Spanish. This has been eaten for thousands of years in the Andean regions and in countries such as Peru and Bolivia.
It is best made with either fresh maize grains that are dried for a day, or with fresh grains that are soaked in water for two hours and then dried before frying. There are many recipes, but here is a typical one.

Use a large pot with a lid. Put 1 cup of cooking oil (such as soya, palm or olive oil) or pork fat in the bottom of the pot and add 4–5 cups of maize when the oil is hot. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Put the lid on and shake the pan every few minutes. 

Take great care as hot oil is dangerous and some grains will pop. (This doesn’t make pop-corn because the grains used are not the same as for pop-corn.) The stirring makes sure the maize grains are well mixed with oil. 

During frying, many grains break open. After about ten minutes, drain off the oil and add seasoning such as salt, onions and garlic.

Maíz tostado is often eaten with chochos (lupins – a type of bean). These prove a good nutritional mix. In other countries, any kind of bean could be used instead. Fried corn is also traditionally served with ceviche – a fish-based meal.
Recently, scientists have shown much interest in the nutritional value of traditional foods such as maíz tostado. If one of your staple foods is maize (or another grain such as sorghum or rice), why not try out this nutritious way of preparing it?

Aurélie Béchoff is a food technologist and has studied with ENSIA-SIARC, CIRAD and University of Quito, Ecuador. She is currently studying for a PhD with NRI on baby foods in Africa.
[email protected] 

Advice on child feeding

From birth to six months, infants grow best if they are fed only breast milk (although HIV-positive mothers will need special counselling). After six months, other foods must be added. Popular foods are thin porridges and soups because they are easy for young infants to eat. However, these foods are watery and may not meet the infant’s nutritional needs, resulting in poor growth.

What to advise families will depend on local customs and on what food is available locally at low cost. Health workers should:

  • give just three or four clear and appropriate messages
  • choose messages that bring the greatest nutritional benefit
  • concentrate on messages that not many families currently practise
  • agree that all health workers give the same messages.

In shanty towns in Peru, health workers concentrate on three simple messages. These are shared at every clinic visit, including immunisation and growth monitoring visits. The messages are:

  • Give a thick purée. This will satisfy and nourish your baby.
  • Add a special food to your baby’s meals (chicken liver, egg, or fish).
  • Encourage your baby at mealtimes with love, patience and good humour.

Soups are popular in Peru. Families are advised to take out a mixture of the solid pieces (potato, beans, meat, vegetables) and mash them to a thick purée, instead of giving the watery liquid. Animal foods are fairly expensive, but the ones promoted are affordable in this area.

Children grew much better in communities with this programme compared to communities with no programme. This teaching raised the importance of nutrition in health facilities and used no extra staff. Flip charts and food preparation demonstrations helped to share the messages.

Based on an article by Dr Mary Penny and colleagues (Lancet 2005, Vol 365).
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Nutritious porridges

Makamba’s porridge

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons maize flour
  • 2 tablespoons soya or peanut flour
  • 1⁄2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon palm oil 

Binga porridge

  • 3 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons maize meal or flour
  • 2 tablespoons roasted bean meal or flour (cowpea or any other bean)
  • 1 tablespoon roasted groundnut meal
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 1 tablespoon moringa leaf powder (stir in after the porridge is cooked)

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is a nutritious paste obtained after grinding roasted peanuts. It is used in cooking many dishes in Africa. It can be added to children’s porridge and be used as a spread on bread.

  • Remove dirty and mouldy nuts.
  • Roast the nuts over an even heat for 10–30 minutes until they are golden brown.
  • Skin and sort the nuts – remove the skins by rubbing and winnowing and taking out any burnt or damaged nuts.
  • Grind the nuts to a fine paste.
  • Mix a little salt and a small amount of heated cooking oil (this is optional).
  • Bottle in clean jars or containers with lids.

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