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Healthy alternatives to instant baby food and packaged malt-based drink
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Healthy alternatives to instant baby food and packaged malt-based drink

With branded popular beverages for children and instant baby food under scrutiny, parents seek easy-to-prepare homemade alternatives

A recent report from a Swiss NGO sounded alarm bells by pointing out that instant baby foods sold by Nestle in India and African and Latin American countries have high added sugar content. The Indian government also recently issued an advisory, asking e-commerce platforms to remove drinks/beverages, including the widely popular Bournvita, from the ‘health drinks’ category.

With the two popular baby and children’s beverages now under scrutiny, wary parents are looking for healthy alternatives to instant baby foods and packaged malt mixes.

Health effects of instant powders, fortified foods

Dr Supraja Chandrasekar, pediatric intensivist at Dhee Hospital, Bangalore, says that feeding babies fortified, instant food over time can lead to metabolic syndrome and chronic health diseases. She suggests consciously choosing healthy alternatives to instant baby foods and packaged malt mixes. 

“Hence, we must make freshly prepared, home-based, region-specific food. For example, south Indians eat millet like Ragi, which can be introduced in a porridge form,” she says, adding that one must prefer locally produced seasonal foods.

Healthy alternatives for infants instead of fortified food

Lekha Sreedharan, the chief dietitian at Apollo Children’s Hospitals, Chennai, says that she does not recommend adding artificial powders to milk.

“The best way is for parents to give their children plain milk. However, if the child does not prefer the taste of plain milk, opt for paneer, buttermilk, or lassi. Occasionally, you can also prepare fruit milkshakes and smoothies at home. However, this is not recommended for regular consumption since the juicing or blending process will get rid of the fiber. So, taking the whole fruit is the best choice,” says Sreedharan.

Dr Chandrasekar adds that an ideal meal for a baby should have all nutritious components such as carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables that are rich in minerals and vitamins. “Hence, cereal porridge, which is millet-based porridge, along with a fruit puree or a vegetable puree, is considered a full meal,” she said.

“The right time to introduce porridge is when the baby’s head is steady, and they start making hand to mouth contact. That’s when the baby would show interest in food and that’s the right time to feed,” says Dr Chandrasekar.

Millet-based porridge for infants

Millet-based malt is rich in amylase, a natural enzyme. Dr Chandrasekar explains the ideal way to prepare millet-based porridge at home:

  • Wash, soak and sprout the millet. This enhances its vitamin and mineral content. After sprouting, dry it out to avoid fungal growth.
  • Dry roast the sprouted millet in malting to prevent it from swelling over time.
  • Mill and sieve the millet. For the first few months of introducing a millet-based porridge, sieving is a must to avoid excess fiber content in the meal.

“The homemade millet malt can be stored in an airtight container. Parents can mix it in boiled water to prepare their baby’s meal. Remember to avoid any refined sugar or salt until the child is a year old. Raisins or dates and ghee can be added to enhance the taste of the porridge,” says Dr Chandrasekar. 

Along with ragi or millet-based porridge, parents can feed their little ones mashed bananas or avocados as well as fruit purees. Dr Chandrasekar says that it is ideal to avoid giving cow’s milk to children under the age of one.

Healthy food alternatives for children

Priyanka Rohatgi, former president, Indian Dietetics Association, Bangalore chapter, says that homemade alternatives to malt-based beverages can be made instead of opting for drink mixes like Bornvita. She explains the following recipe:

Blueberry-spinach smoothie

Sreedharan details an easy, healthy blueberry spinach smoothie recipe

  • Take 1 cup of spinach, milk and plain yogurt each, a handful of blueberries, 1 ripe banana and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Add the spinach, milk and yogurt in a blender. Blend it well and then add the rest of the ingredients.
  • Add some extra milk if you want a thinner consistency.

Carrot milk

  • Add 3-4 cooked carrots to the boiled milk.
  • Simmer the milk for approximately 4-5 minutes by stirring continuously.
  • To enhance the taste, add 8-10 almonds that are soaked and peeled along with some cardamom powder.
  • Boil it for a while, cool it and then blend it into a smooth puree.

Health mix

Shubha Ramesh L, a Bangalore-based dietician recommends a health mix that can be easily prepared at home and is a great source of calories, proteins and minerals.

Ingredients: Take 100 grams of Kerala boiled rice (matta rice) or red rice, channa dal, raw rice, green gram, bajra, white soya, jowar, corn (maize), groundnut, barley and toor dal each. 200 grams of ragi and wheat. 50 grams of horse gram, almond, cashew nuts and sago each. 25 grams of cardamom.

How to prepare

  • Soak all the ingredients overnight except rice, channa dal, sago, almond, cashew, barley, groundnut and cardamom. Soak the corn separately.
  • Drain the water, tie up all the ingredients in a muslin cloth for a whole day and sprinkle water occasionally.
  • Sun-dry all the ingredients. Once completely dry, roast all ingredients except barley.
  • Powder it all with cardamom and barley. Store this mix in an airtight container.
  • Take a tablespoon of this powder, mix it with milk and boil it for two minutes before drinking.

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