By Himanshu Kapoor
(Photo © Anshika Ajmera Chhabra)
Millets are packed with minerals and vitamins, and are also gluten free and non-acidic—the perfect combination for children’s demanding but soft digestive systems
BBeing easy to digest, soothing on the stomach, non allergic, non acid forming and gluten free, millets are popularly given as first foods to babies. Ragi (finger millet) malt is widely used even today as weaning food for babies. When you start your children off on wholesome nutritious foods early on, you lay the foundation for healthy eating habits that will see them through a healthy adolescence and adulthood—and possibly, a lifetime.
A popular method is of using Ragi as malt powder. This malt powder can be consumed by mixing it with milk or curd, or simply by boiling it in water. In Southern India, because of its high nutrient content, it is recommended by doctors for infants of six months and above. Homemade Ragi malt is one of the most popular infant foods till date.
Ragi is truly a wonder grain and should be incorporated in a child’s diet in one way or another. Ragi is very good for lactating mothers too as it helps in creating more milk.
Millets are small seeded grasses that are hardy and grow well in semi arid regions as rain fed crops, and therefore, are also known as ‘God’s own grains’. Due to their resistance to pests and diseases, no pesticides and fertilisers are used for its cultivation. Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes.
Millets are also unique due to their short growing season. They can develop from planted seeds to mature plants in as little as 65 days. When stored properly, whole millets keep for two years or even more.
But Why Millets?
Nutritional value: Millets are highly nutritious, non glutinous and non acid forming foods. Hence they are soothing and easy to digest. They are also considered to be the least allergenic and most digestible of all grains available. Being high on insoluble fibre, millets release small quantities of glucose over a longer period of time, thus lowering the risk of diabetes.
Millets are particularly high in minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. It also comprises B vitamins, especially niacin, B6 and folic acid. Some of the health benefits of Ragi are owing to its polyphenol and dietary fibre contents. Ragi is the richest source of calcium among plant foods. Calcium along with Vitamin D helps strengthen the bones, which makes Ragi a vital source of natural calcium for growing children.
Ragi is also an excellent source of natural Iron. Its consumption helps in preventing anaemia. Vitamin C present in millets also increases the absorption of Iron. Sprouted Ragi develops and boosts its Vitamin C in the process of sprouting, and therefore, the Iron in Ragi becomes more bio-available when consumed as sprouted Ragi flour or Ragi malt.
Environmental factors: Unlike rice and wheat, which requires many inputs in terms of soil fertility and water, millets grow well in dry regions as a rain fed crop. By eating millets, we will be encouraging farmers in dry areas to grow crops that are best suited for those regions. This is a step towards sustainable cropping practice through introducing diversity in our diet. By growing and using millets, we respect the biodiversity in nature rather than forcefully changing cropping patterns to favour only wheat and rice.
Millet Meal Must
In order to get millets back into our homes, we need to start using millets in stages and in simple recipes. A simple way is to start substituting rice with millets in various dishes such as lemon rice, kheer, payasam, khichdi, pilaf or just plain rice. Millets are high on dietary fibre and low on glycaemic index, which keeps one going for a longer time without feeling hungry. Less quantity of millets are required to get the same amount of energy as compared to wheat. Millets do not contain gluten (a wheat protein which is hard to digest by some of us). Millets are alkaline in nature, which is soothing to the stomach and easy to digest. Millets are the only source of carbohydrates which do not have any starch in it and it releases energy slowly for improved stamina during long periods of intense physical activity.
Most people are familiar with Ragi (finger millet), Jowar (sorghum), and Bajra (pearl millet) as these are consumed even today in different parts of our country and are a part of the local food culture. Similarly, we have other millets such as Foxtail, Barnyard, Proso, Kodo and Little, all of which belong to the paddy family and cook similar to rice in its respective forms. These millets were part of our regular meals till a few decades back but now the dietary disconnect has been long enough for it to be out of sight and thus forgotten. This has made most of us unfamiliar with these grains to the extent that many of us have not even heard of these.
It is generally seen that most of the children do not like the porridge made out of wheat, dalia or oats. Our experience of working with children shows that if they are exposed to dalia made with millets, they learn to enjoy such millet based recipes. Children’s taste can be cultivated by introducing millets as early as possible, in different forms of dishes as Upma, dosas, khichdi, Payasam, kheer or millet mix drink. Millets can be eaten regularly like any other grain in the form of chapatti or rice. Millets can also be used for making laddoos, dalia, kheer, khichdi, dosas, and so on.
The answer to the question as to which millets should preferably be eaten is that one must eat the millets which are local to your area and in season. You can check with the local organic stores for the availability of millets.
In conclusion, we can say that not just children but humans of all ages can enjoy the benefits of eating millets at any stage in their lives.
Ragi Porridge with Almond Milk
Ragi malt: 3 spoons
Jaggery: 3 spoons
Water: 1.5 glasses
Salt: a pinch
Almonds: 8 to 10, soaked overnight
Peel the almonds and blend with ¼ cup of water and strain through muslin fabric to get the milk.
Note: Ragi is naturally high in calcium; almonds add a good source of fat, vitamin E, and many more nutrients for your child
Home Made Baby Food
Wheat: 125 gm
Masoor dal: 125 gm
Mung dal: 125 gm
Ragi malt: 125 gm
Roasted peanuts: 100 gm
Dry roast each grain and grind separately. Mix all powders. Store in an airtight container.
When required, mix 1 tablespoon in 1/2 cup of cold water and cook. Add a pinch of salt, a little ghee, and feed the baby.
Note: It is good for babies from 6 months to 2 years
The author is Founder, C Green Foods, an organisation committed to the preservation and revival of traditional foods that promote the health improvement of people and the soil. She is also a Health Food Consultant, who has launched a campaign called ‘Millet Meal Must’ in an endeavour to popularise the grain in Indian homes
This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Pure & Eco India