By Benny Munyama

Nutritionists consider a balanced diet to be an important element in the development and growth of a child within the first 1000 most critical days’ bracket. It is for this reason the non-governmental organization, Save The Children, sponsored the formation and training of Nutrition Support Groups (NSGs), Promoters and Volunteers under the phase two of Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN II)  Project in Kalabo district, Western province, to assist teach expecting and lactating mothers as well as caregivers on how to cook nutritious foods for their children.

Nyambe Kabukabu is the Nutrition Support Group (NSG) Supervisor for Buleya, Mapungu. Muchatanga and Luanginga wards under Scaling Up Nutrition (Sun II) Project in Kalabo Central constituency.  Ms Kabukabu recounts receiving training, together with nutrition promoters, on best hygienic and nutritious food preparation techniques when cooking for children. She stresses that a diversified diet is one of the key interventions that can help reduce undernutrition among children.

“I have learnt through this project that feeding a child is not miraculous; it has to be done practically by the mother or caregiver. These lessons under SUN II Project help mothers or caregivers understand how to cook and feed a child with a variety of nutritious foods, when to feed the child.”

Ms. Kabukabu explained that teaching aids, Lesson 2: Feeding a child aged 06-23months and Lesson 3: Catching child health problems early were delivered to target households with optimism that the lessons would empower mothers and caregivers with knowledge and skills on how to prepare a mix of nutritious and appetizing meals for both healthy and ailing children; and how to detect early child health problems such as stunting and malnutrition.

“People are now changing from their old ways; gratitude goes to the SUN II Project. We’re now seeing situations where households have been empowered to detect early when a child is malnourished. Before the project, stunting and malnutrition were associated with (myths such as) witchcraft. However, truth is that nutrition comes with eating the right diet.”

Following an intervention by Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, both pregnant and lactating mothers in Kalabo district are adopting new cooking and feeding methods. This is in a bid to fight malnutrition, particularly stunting, among children.

Numba Kanyanga, 22, is an expectant mother. Ms Kanyanga is also an NSG volunteer for Muchinga Mothers Group. She was mentored at Buleya Health Post by her promoter.  Ms Kanyanga understands that a balanced diet provides both the mother and unborn baby with all the essential micro and macro nutrients for optimum health. She has since been conducting onward training to other target households.

“Cooking is a very vital component of nutrition. We cook food to make it tasty and appetizing and in order for the body to receive back the desired nutrients. Therefore, we always encourage the mother’s and caregivers in the target households to grow foods capable of giving them plant based nutrients,” she said.

Ms. Kanyanga has explained that cooking demonstrations such as the ones she was championing in Buleya, are very important. She said the skills acquired help mothers and caregivers on how to cook food so that their children receive the desired amount of nutrients in the body.

“It is exciting to learn how beneficial it is when a mother or caregiver has correct knowledge about cooking nutritious food for a pregnant woman and child.”

Ms. Kanyanga notes that the delivered lessons has also helped target households determine what type of food to give to a child of a particular age and what time to administer the food.

The target SUN II households have also been taught how to take care of a sick child and break traditional myths which perpetuate malnutrition among children. The traditional recipes on display during the cooking demonstration were sweet potatoes mixed with pounded groundnuts, cassava leaves with groundnuts, porridge mixed with groundnuts and rice with mashed kapenta and fish, and a nutrient rich snack made from maize meal dough filled with rice, beans, milk, eggs and onion, among others.

In attendance during the cooking demonstration in Buleya, was a joint team led by the District Nutrition Coordinating Committee (DNCC) Chairperson Siyupwa Kabisa, District Nutrition Support Coordinator Inonge Nosiku and representatives of UNICEF and Save the Children, Provincial Office, Mongu.

Meanwhile, District Nutritionist Mercy Ndaba has reiterated that it is important for rural households to uphold dietary diversity, food security and self-sustainability especially among those with children aged below 2 years. Ms. Ndaba notes that a diverse diet ensures nutrient adequacy and nutritional quality.

“Low dietary diversity leads to nutrient deficiencies that in turn cause malnutrition. On the other hand, food security ensures that households have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods at all times. The available food should also be able to meet food preferences at all times.”

She added that “a household that is food secure is not prone to having malnutrition because all the four dimensions of food security (food availability, accessibility, stability and utilization) are met. Self-sustainability empowers a target household to be able to provide nutritious foods at all times and this in turn prevents the occurrence of malnutrition in children under 2 years of age.”

And Kalabo District Nursing Officer, Liwakala Liwakala has noted that providing children with a healthy balanced diet enhances their physical and cognitive development, promotes attainment of a healthy weight, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases in later life.

Mr. Liwakala adds that nutrition during the first 1000 most critical days of human life builds foundation for a child’s development by enabling growth, ability to learn and thrive.

“In fact, good nutrition provides the nutrients that drive a child’s development. Within the first 1000 days, the brain grows more rapidly than at any other time in a person’s life and therefore a child needs the right nutrients at the right time to feed the rapid brain development.

“During pregnancy, there is rapid and astonishing speed of brain development that can be supported with fuel from nutrients such as iron, protein, copper folate, zinc, iodine and some fats. After the baby is born, breastmilk is the ultimate super food for the child,” he said.

Mr. Liwakala has re-emphasized that breastmilk contains a variety of nutrients, growth factors and hormones that are vital for a child’s early brain development. He notes that lactating mothers require a balanced diet in order to enhance breastfeeding while children above 6 months of age must be provided with the right types and amounts of food supplements.

“The benefits are holistic in nature including enhancing the child’s immunity and response to infections. And these nutrients are readily available in local foods such as orange fleshed sweet potatoes, wild fruits and local vegetables. However, the impact of breastfeeding on brain development is unparalleled.”