Unfortunately, malnutrition is a very common problem in India. With over 20% of the country's children suffering from undernutrition, it is time for us take a step to address this issue. While, the statistics in India are alarming, Indians as a community, have traditional foods that provide all the nutrition they need. Here are some of the traditional Indian foods that can help your child stay healthy and well nourished from infancy to adulthood. You may also like to read about the difference between malnutrition and undernourishment.
Traditional Indian foods for babies
Ragi kanji : This is a sort of porridge that is made for babies in India. Made from sprouted ragi (nachni), milk and palm jaggery this mixture is extremely nutritious and helps your baby grow and gain weight healthily. What makes it so potent is the fact that ragi has a great mix of vitamins, minerals, iron and amino acids that helps boost your child's immunity and improve the functioning of their nervous system. Palm jaggery helps the your baby get enough calcium and iron that aid in the proper formation of his/her bones and organs. Apart from that it's high fibre content also helps keep your baby's digestive tract healthy. You may also like to read about the health benefits of ragi.
You can buy ragi powder from the market, but if you prefer to make it yourself, you need to buy ragi, wash it and leave it in a bowl over night. The next morning it will be soft enough to grind into a powder. If the ragi is not dry enough to grind, you can even spread it out on tissue or a soft cloth so that it dries.
Next add two table spoons of the powder to a glass of water and heat this mixture. Make sure you keep stirring it so that no clumps form.
Once it becomes thick and the smell changes, you know the porridge is cooked.
Add some grated jaggery and keep stirring till it comes to a boil. Your base mixture is ready.
Now whenever you want to feed your baby this porridge, add some milk to a small portion of this mixture and beat it well to form a thin, uniform drink.
How thick you want to make this is up to you (just keep adding milk to the base to make it thinner). Also, if you cannot find palm jaggery, using normal jaggery also works wonders.
The base mixture can be stored in a refrigerator for three to four days without spoiling.
Lentil water or dal ka paani: Rich in manganese, iron, dietary fibre and other essential vitamins and minerals, daal ka paani is a common weaning food, or a food that helps a baby transition to solid food. usually fed to a baby when he/she is about six months old, this mixture is made using either moong daal (yellow gram) or masoor dal (red lentils) and is great to help fulfil your baby's nutritional needs.
How to make this mixture:
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Take two tablespoons of the dal of your choice, wash it well and add half a cup of water to it.
Now put it in a pressure cooker for it to cook.
Once cooked, add another half glass of water to it and beat it to make it a pulp.
Now, strain it and serve it lukewarm.
Rice water: Packed with starch, rice water is yet another food that is given to babies when they are around six years of age. A weaning food, or one that is given when the child has to be introduced to solid food, rice water help give your child energy, aids in proper digestion, helps improve the quality of their skin and helps rehydrate your baby if he/she has just had a bout of vomiting or diarrhoea. You may also like to read about the health benefits of rice.
How to make this mixture?
Take as much rice as you'd like to have and add more water to it than normal.
A good way to make this mixture is by boiling the rice in a container and not cook it in a cooker.
Once the rice is cooked, strain out the water and feed it to your baby, when it is cool enough.
Some pediatricians advise against rice water because kanji is more nutritious. It depends on whether the baby is gaining weight and able to digest new food and you must discuss it with the doctor.
Traditional Indian foods for toddlers and adolescent children
Egg and milk with sesame seed oil (til oil): It is a common tradition in most South Indian families, practiced when a girl reaches puberty. This mix helps strengthen her bones, nourishes her muscles and especially helps her beat anaemia -- a very common problem in pubescent girls. The egg in the mixture helps give the girl child's body enough zinc, iron, vitamins A, B and D, riboflavin, calcium, iron, phosphorous, lutein, choline (A compound necessary for brain development) and cholesterol. And milk helps provide essential calcium her body needs to prevent bone loss and improves the absorption of calcium for the food she eats. It is also a great source for proteins that helps build muscle and repair tissue. You may also like to read about the health benefits of egg.
Another part of this mixture is sesame oil, which helps strengthen her bones and has folic acid which helps prevent anaemia. Till or sesame oil is also known to reduce the pitta (or heat) levels in the girl's body and is known in Ayurveda to help improve vaginal health by increasing lubrication. You may also like to read about the health benfits of til oil.
How to make this mixture:
Administered for four days, when a girl has her first menstrual cycle, this mixture is fairly easy to make.
Take a glass of warm milk and add one or two beaten eggs to it.
Now mix the egg well into the milk so that there are no lumps.
Next, add two to three teaspoons of sesame oil to this and mix it well.
Have her drink it first thing in the morning.
This can be a difficult mixture to drink at first due to the taste of til oil. A good way to beat that is to have her drink a few sips of the milk, then have the oil and top it off with milk. This does take some getting used to and is an acquired taste.
Gond ke laddu
A common food given to nursing mothers, gond ke laddoo are known to help increase lactation in new mothers. This laddoo is often served with milk and is high in nutrients, especially calcium, folic acid and vitamins. Known to help strengthen the bones of the mother and child, these laddoos are high in calories and help the baby gain weight. Commonly made in North India and by Maharastrians, gond ke laddoo are fed to young children and not toddlers.
How to make this laddu:
Gond or edible gum, powdered sugar, ghee and wheat flour. You can add some dry fruits like almonds and pistachios to the mix if you'd like to.
Heat half the amount of ghee you have and roast the crushed gond in it. Gond puffs up when cooked, so that's a good indicator to know when it is done. Now heat the other half of the ghee and fry the wheat flower in it till it turns golden brown. Now mix the two and stir well it forms a uniform mixture. Now add the sugar and dry fruits to make a uniform mixture.
Once done, cool it till it is lukewarm and then mould small parts of the mixture into laddoos. You can even give this mixture in the powdered form if your child prefers it that way.