HOME GARDEN TECHNOLOGY LEAFLET 3
ENSURING GOOD FAMILY NUTRITION
ON A DAILY BASIS
A balanced diet contains all the essential nutrients and energy a person needs to grow, develop and stay healthy. Eating a balanced diet means individual meals are also balanced, that is, each one contains a proportion of the nutrients that a person needs every day. As a useful guideline, each meal should provide one-third to one-half of a person's daily nutrient needs. There are many ways of combining foods to make a nutritious meal.
INGREDIENTS FOR NUTRITIOUS FAMILY MEALS9
Use Table 1 and Figures 2 and 3 as guidelines for preparing meals that are nutritious and that provide a combination of essential nutrients.
Staple foods. These are important for the preparation of family meals because they provide the main energy as well as the protein that people need to work, play, think, learn and do all their other activities. Staples include cooked cereals (such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, teff or wheat), starchy roots (such as cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and Irish potatoes), and starchy fruits (such as plantains). Local names of cooked staples in different African countries include ngera, sadza, mealie pap, nshima, tuwo and injera.
Legumes, meat, chicken and fish. These provide extra energy and protein as well as some minerals and vitamins. Meat, chicken and fish provide plenty of iron, greatly increasing the iron value of a meal. Legumes include beans, peas, bambara groundnuts and groundnuts. They may be eaten alone or with oilseeds (e.g. sesame or sunflower seeds), meat, chicken, fish or dairy foods such as yoghurt, curds, cheese or eggs.
Vegetables and fruits. These provide vitamins and minerals (micronutrients), particularly, folate and vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is also supplied by red palm oil, yellow maize, orange-coloured sweet potatoes, egg yolks and liver.
Fat-rich foods. Young children need more fat than adults. Fat-rich foods include vegetable oils, coconut and palm oil, butter, margarine, lard and shea butter. Coconut cream, avocado, oilseeds (groundnuts and sunflower and sesame seeds), fatty meats and fish, milk, curds and cheese also supply useful amounts of fat.
Foods from the home garden for nutritious family meals
Foods for making the relish or accompaniment
Vegetables and legumes
Animal /dairy foods
Fruits (bananas, mangoes, oranges, avocados)
Start with a starchy staple such as pounded yam, ngera, sadza, mealie pap, nshima, tuwo, injera or any other main dish. Prepare a relish from legumes, leafy vegetables, or meat, chicken or fish. To flavour the leafy vegetable relish, add other ingredients such as pounded groundnuts or melon seeds, or any other legumes or nuts harvested from the home garden or purchased at the market. This also adds variety and enhances the nutritional value of the relish. Vegetables can be combined with meat, fish or legumes to enhance their taste and the nutritional balance of the dish. All family members, especially children and pregnant or lactating women, should eat fruits at the end of each meal.
Table 1 and Figure 1 suggest the types of ingredients to add to a relish to make family meals well balanced.
Family mixed meal guide 1
Figure 1 offers suggestions for two-dish meals consisting of a main dish and a relish. For example: tuwo and egusi (leafy vegetables and pounded melon seed) or nshima (stiff maize porridge) and cassava leaves with pounded groundnuts.
Family mixed meal guide 2
Figure 2 offers suggestions for a family meal consisting of a dish for which all the ingredients are cooked in one pot (e.g. matoke, jolof rice, mutakura, rice and beans).
Snack foods are foods eaten between main meals. Snack foods are particularly important for young children, who need to eat four to five times a day.
Examples of good snack foods are:
Children have special food needs
MEETING THE FOOD NEEDS OF DIFFERENT FAMILY MEMBERS
Except for young children, who need to be fed four to five times a day, each family member should receive two or three main meals per day, ideally in the morning, at midday and in the evening. In order to help each family member get his or her share of the family food supply, there are some guidelines to follow.
Infants from birth to 6 months of age
Infants from birth to six months of age should receive breastmilk only. It is the best food for a baby and provides all the nutrients most infants need for the first six months of life. It is safe, inexpensive and has the added advantage of boosting the baby's resistance to disease. By six months, babies should be introduced to other foods that supplement the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals provided by breastmilk. This will also accustom the baby to varieties in food flavours and textures.
Infants from 6 to 12 months of age
Foods given to the baby in addition to breastmilk are called complementary or weaning foods. Preparing safe and nutritious complementary foods can take a lot of time and effort. Many mothers and fathers, especially young and first-time parents, need practical advice and assistance to help them provide their babies with the foods they need.
Foods for babies require special preparation to make sure that they are soft, clean and easy to chew and digest. A child at this age should be fed porridge made from cereals, such as maize or other local staples, twice a day. By the time the child reaches one year of age, the complementary foods should be increased to four or five times a day, in addition to breastmilk (see Figure 3). Once a baby is accustomed to liquid and soft foods, and as the teeth appear, semi-solid and then solid foods can gradually be introduced to the diet.
Staples cooked with water are bulky (i.e. they have little energy or nutrients compared with their volume), so they need to be eaten with nutrient-rich foods. These include mashed beans and pounded groundnuts, mashed green leafy and orange-coloured vegetables (which are rich in vitamin A), and soft fruits such as papayas and pumpkin (which supply plenty of vitamin C). An excellent way to enrich porridge is to eat it with small amounts of animal or dairy foods, such as cooked and mashed fish, chicken, meat or eggs, as well as curds or milk. To increase the energy content in porridge, make the porridge from fermented or germinated cereal flour, and add a little vegetable or palm oil to it. A health worker can offer more information on making fermented or germinated cereal flours, as well as practical instruction on cooking nutritious weaning foods. Information for field workers on infant and child feeding, and the processing and preparation of weaning foods are also provided in Information Sheets 3, 4 and 5.
Children from 1 to 5 years of age
Young children from one to two years of age are often the most at risk of malnutrition. They have very high energy and nutrient needs for their body size in comparison with adults. Proper care and feeding are essential for their normal growth, development and activity. Children should be breastfed regularly every day, until they are at least two years of age. At meal times, they can eat many of the same foods as their parents and they should be encouraged to eat a variety of energy foods, protein foods, fruits and vegetables.
Children cannot eat the same amount of food in one meal as adults. In addition to breastmilk, they should eat four to five times a day. A simple way to ensure that children get enough food is to give them nutritious snacks between the main family meals. See Information Sheet 4 and the section on snacks in this Home Garden Technology Leaflet for suggestions.
Sick children must be encouraged to eat and drink, even if they have little appetite. Lots of fluids - fruit juices, soups and clean water - are especially important when a child has diarrhoea. Children recovering from fever and sickness should also be given plenty of energy- and nutrient-rich foods to eat.
Eating habits are established early, so it is important to teach children at an early age how to get the best value from local foods.
Because older children and adolescents grow rapidly, they have very high energy and nutrient needs. They need adequate amounts of energy and protein, as well as vitamins and minerals, especially iron, calcium and vitamins A, C and D. Children from school age onwards need two to three meals every day, plus snacks between meals. Children who do not have a midday meal at home should take a packed lunch to eat at school or have access to snack foods, such as ripe bananas and groundnuts, roasted meats, or roasted or cooked sweet potatoes, yams or cassava.
Special attention should be given to adolescent girls. They need to be well nourished both for their immediate development and the future stresses of childbearing. Adolescent girls who become pregnant are at particular risk and must have additional nutrients for their baby's growth. They should eat plenty of the family staple foods at every meal and generous portions of relishes containing vegetables, legumes, meat, fish or eggs. Foods that are rich in calcium (e.g. milk) should be encouraged.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women
A woman needs to eat enough before and during her pregnancy to supply the extra energy, protein, vitamins and minerals needed by the growing foetus. Requirements for iron are particularly high, and supplements are often needed. Pregnant women should be encouraged to have regular medical checks.
A woman's nutritional needs are even greater when she is breastfeeding than during her pregnancy, as she also has to meet her growing baby's nutrient needs. If the mother does not satisfy the needs of her baby, the baby will draw on, and reduce, the mother's own stores of nutrients. This puts the mother at increased risk of illness and can affect the baby's development.
A varied and nutritious diet with adequate staple foods, and relishes made from vegetables, legumes, meat and fish, and plenty of fruits should be eaten. Breastfeeding women should also drink plenty of water and other fluids (e.g. soup, milk).
Although many elderly people enjoy an active life, illness and the loss of the sense of taste can reduce their appetites, while loss of teeth can make chewing difficult. If they cannot eat a lot at one time, elderly people need frequent but small meals that can be chewed easily. Foods for the elderly should include a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and, if available, dairy products. Consumption of high-energy foods may be particularly important if appetite fails and overall food intake is limited. Maintaining adequate fluid intake is also important. Elderly people may also need help from family members or neighbours with their agricultural, food processing and food preparation activities.
Growing as wide a variety of foods as possible makes it easier to meet the diverse nutritional needs of all family members. Depending on the size of the home garden and water availability, the home garden can also produce (in addition to roots, tubers, vegetables and fruits) additional amounts of the staple (e.g. maize, cassava, sweet potato). This augments the stock of the staple and saves families from having to adjust the daily number of meals or the meals' quality (i.e. the variety of food items) as the year goes by.
9 Burgess, A. et al., 1998.