INFORMATION SHEET 5
HOME PROCESSING AND PREPARATION
OF WEANING FOODS
During the first six months of life, most infants obtain all the energy and nutrients they need from breastmilk. By the age of six months, however, they need additional or complementary foods to meet their needs for proper growth and development. Weaning is the process of gradually adding foods to the breastmilk in a child's diet. Weaning starts at around six months of age when breastmilk becomes inadequate for normal healthy growth. Weaning foods are increased little by little so that eventually the child gets enough energy and nutrients from family foods. The process is completed by the time a child reaches two to three years of age and no longer takes breastmilk.
At the age of six months, most infants show signs that they are ready to start other foods.
They may have one or two teeth and begin chewing. Even though they are getting plenty of breastmilk, they seem extremely hungry and reach out for the food their mothers are eating. If a mother does not start giving weaning foods at this stage, the child may stop gaining weight at a healthy rate and become underweight.
Good weaning foods should be:
Using staples for weaning
The first weaning food a baby eats is usually a soft or semi-liquid food made from a starchy staple (e.g. maize, millet, cassava or yam). But a plain porridge prepared from cereals or tuber flour (e.g. cassava) and water is not sufficiently rich in energy and it lacks protein and essential vitamins, such as A and C. It is therefore important to add other foods, including legumes, such as protein-rich cowpeas, beans or pigeon peas, as well as a spoonful of oil and/or sugar. As an alternative to oil, legumes that are rich in fat, such as roasted/pounded groundnuts or soybean, or oil crops, such as roasted/pounded sesame or sunflower seeds, can be added, as well as green leafy vegetables and fruits which are rich in vitamins and minerals.
How to solve the problem of bulky foods
Staple foods such as maize, millet, sorghum, cassava and yam are high in starch. This means that during cooking they absorb a lot of water, which makes them bulky, and that a person has to eat a larger volume of food to obtain enough energy and nutrients. Adults can eat a large volume of food at one meal, but small children have small stomachs and it is difficult for them to consume large quantities. So, if their food is bulky, they do not get enough energy and nutrients. Fortunately, this problem can be solved if families feed children often, prepare weaning foods from germinated cereal flour and enrich bulky foods.
Feed infants often. An infant of six to 12 months of age needs about five small meals a day, in addition to breastfeeding, in order to get enough energy and nutrients from bulky foods.
Prepare weaning foods from germinated cereal flour. Germinating cereals before making flour from them changes the structure of the starch and makes it possible to prepare a porridge that contains twice as much flour as that in porridge made from ordinary flour, without changing the thickness of the porridge.
Enrich bulky foods. A bulky food is enriched by the addition of an energy- or nutrient-rich food, or a food rich in both. In order to make a staple more energy rich, a spoonful of oil, fat or sugar can be added to it. This increases the energy concentration of the food without adding to its volume or thickness.
Infant food may be enriched by adding a protein-rich food such as legume flour (cowpeas, beans, bambara groundnuts or groundnuts) to the cereal or tuber flour used to make the food. Mashed cowpeas, beans, chicken, meat or fish also can be added.
Foods that are rich in both energy (fat or oil) and protein can be processed or cooked and added to the weaning food. These include groundnuts, soybeans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, sunflower seeds and any other oilseeds that are locally available.
In order to assure that children get enough vitamins A and C, thus increasing iron absorption, mothers or other caregivers in the family should give them some of the following foods each day:
These foods can be mixed with enriched porridge or given to children separately.
Yellow- or orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are particularly rich in vitamin A and can provide a good base for infant foods that may be enriched with protein-rich foods, such as legumes. Furthermore, adding a spoonful of red palm oil to an infant's or child's food improves its energy content significantly and provides vitamin A, which is vital for good eyesight and protection from infectious diseases. One teaspoon of red palm oil mixed into a child's porridge every day supplies enough vitamin A to keep that child healthy.
Processing germinated cereal and legume flours
Cereal flours. At least 20 different types of germinated or fermented cereal flours and products are prepared in African countries. They are used for a variety of purposes, including the preparation of the main family dish, beverages that are drunk as snacks, infant porridge and food for the sick.
To germinate cereals, the whole grains are cleaned, then soaked in water for one day. The water is drained and the grains are placed in a jute sack or another container and covered with appropriate local material that will keep them moist. The wet cereal is then stored in a dark place for two to three days, until the grains start sprouting. The sprouted grain is then sun dried before grinding.
Depending on cultural practices, some people grind the cereal before fermentation, while others soak the grains for one to two days before grinding and fermenting them. Whatever the practice, the benefits of fermented flour are many. Apart from being enriched nutritionally without becoming thicker, porridge made from fermented flour is also easy to digest. The iron in cereals is better absorbed after fermentation. Furthermore, the lactic acid (the sour substance produced during fermentation) in fermented flours prevents harmful germs from growing fast, and this makes porridge made from fermented flour much safer to eat and more nutrient dense compared with porridge made from unfermented or non-germinated flour.
The following are "recipes" for producing germinated and fermented flours.
Germinated cereal flour (maize, millet or sorghum)
Fermented cereal flour (only an example since there are variations)
Legume flours. Legume flours are quite useful for enriching the cereal and root or tuber flours used to prepare infant feeds. To prepare these 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 particles. The following "recipes" show the step-by-step stages in the processing of coarse cowpea, soybean and pigeon pea flours.
Coarse cowpea flour
1. Sort and wash cowpeas.
2. Roast them.
3. Peel them (optional).
4. Pound or grind them.
5. Sieve flour.
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.
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.
The following are examples of weaning food recipes. The first three were developed by the Kenya Non-governmental Natural Resources Research and Development Programme.
Millet and bean porridge (serves 4)
1 cup pigeon pea flour
3 cups millet flour
4 cups cold water
10-12 cups hot water
Pinch of salt
1. Sort cowpea leaves, blanch for 5 minutes, dry and pound. Set aside.
2. Mix together pigeon pea and millet flours.
3. Add cold water and mix into a smooth paste.
4. Add hot water to paste. Cook mixture for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
5. Add 1 tablespoon of the dried cowpea leaves and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
6. Add salt to taste.
Cat's whiskers, pumpkin and taro root
Handful cat's whiskers leaves
½ cassava or taro root, peeled and cubed
¼ small pumpkin, cubed
½ cup milk (optional)
1. Sort leaves.
2. Boil cassava or taro.
3. When half done, add the leaves and pumpkin. Continue to boil until soft.
4. Mash and serve with milk.
Jute leaves and sweet potato mash
1 small sweet potato
Handful jute leaves
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
Pinch of salt
1. Wash sweet potato and boil until soft.
2. Boil egg for 4-5 minutes, cool and peel.
3. Wash and boil jute leaves.
4. Peel cooked sweet potato.
5. Mix ingredients and add vegetable oil.
6. Add salt and mash.
½ cup maize meal
2 tablespoons bean flour
1 teaspoon shredded spinach
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
1. Mix maize meal and bean flour with water and cook for 20-30 minutes.
2. Add spinach and vegetable oil and cook for another 2 minutes.
3. Add salt to taste.