By Lea Ramapuram
I remember the day my baby boy turned six months old. His nanny, a sweet old lady with the widest smile, walked triumphantly into the house, beaming ear to ear and said, “We can give him his first bite of solid food today! Madam, have you bought ragi?” I was stunned - I had, of course, read up on the best food to start my baby on and knew already that ragi was full of the iron his little body needed right now. But how did Aasiya di intuitively figure it out?!
That’s the relationship our culture has with millet - there’s a certain understanding of millet benefits that far precedes scientific research, and this trust in their superpowers has been passed down through generations. But why don’t we carry this relationship beyond those first few months of mushy porridge?
If you’re a mom to school-going little ones, nutrition is always on your mind - what do I give them for breakfast? What do I pack for lunch? What are some healthy tea-time snacks I can make? The questions in our mind always seem to revolve around food, and for good reason too.
Healthy food forms the most basic building block towards constructing a healthy lifestyle, and isn’t that exactly what every mom aims to give their child? Between the pressure of fussy kids who don’t eat anything you cook and the incessant voices telling us they could be doing better at school if only they ate better, moms sometimes find themselves at their wits end scrambling to make food that’s tasty and healthy, clearly proven by the increasing number of “tasty healthy millet recipes” available online!
The Answer Has Been Here All Along
Millet, a family of ancient cereal crops that have been classified “superfood” for all the amazing nutritional benefits it hosts, has been cultivated in our country for centuries, and India continues to be the highest producer of millet worldwide today (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).
You probably know them by their familiar local names - jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet), kangni (foxtail millet) - but did you also know that these household staples are powerhouses of nutrition that have a variety of health benefits, especially for growing children? They are gluten-free and full of nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, tryptophan, phosphorus, B vitamins and antioxidants.
A recent study by the National Centre For Biotechnology Information found that the cognitive ability of Indian school-going children was positively impacted by consistently eating fortified pearl millet. Iron deficiency, the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, limits a child’s brain development and learning capacity. Millet benefits can battle these problems.
In some parts of South India, ragi porridge is a popular first food for babies and is something that adults enjoy for breakfast too - so it’s no surprise that some of the greatest minds in the country began their lives there!
Different Millet & Their Benefits For Your School-Going Kid
Here’s the lowdown on millet benefits of the different kinds that are available to us (this in-depth paper by the Indian Institute of Millet Research gives you much more detail) - you’ll see why adding them to your children’s’ diets will improve their performance in school, by providing them with exactly the right nutrients they need to keep their little bodies and brains healthy and growing.
1. Ragi ( Finger Millet) - Good For Brain Development & Fights AnemiaA good substitute for rice, and easily cooked into porridge, finger millet or ragi is full of calcium, protein and amino acids. A popular first food for babies, it is rich in iron too. This makes ragi a necessary part of your child’s diet as this gluten-free millet contains all the nutrients needed for brain development in your child while keeping away anemia, a common problem in school going kids, leading to low attention spans and poor energy levels.
2. Jowar (Sorghum) - Helps Control ObesityJowar has been used to make different types of rotis for ages in our country. It is full of protein, iron and fibre, and helps keeps the bad cholesterol away. We live in times when childhood obesity is a real concern, and this millet is perfect for kids who have been advised to switch to healthier diets. It is also gluten-free, making it perfect for children born with wheat allergies too.
3. Kangni/ Korra (Foxtail Millet) - Builds ImmunityAvailable in the form of flour and semolina, kangni or foxtail millet has healthy carbohydrates that balance blood sugar and is also rich in calcium and iron. It has the highest mineral content among all the millet and is known for its immunity-building properties. This makes it an excellent choice for school-going children - gone are the days of missing out on classes because of recurring colds or upset stomachs!
Healthy Millet Recipes
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to the different things you can cook up with millet. Millet recipes are all the buzz among health-conscious moms on the internet, and the sheer variety of creative idea using foxtail millet, little millet or pearl millet is fascinating. Millet recipes for muffins, halwa, laddoos, stir fry and even burger patties will have your kids gobbling these superfoods down without even realizing how healthy these treats are.
And if you think that it requires superhuman levels of effort and creativity, you’ll be surprised to see how effortless some of these recipes are. The only effort it takes is to remember to add millet to your shopping list every weekend, so you have the ingredients at hand whenever inspiration strikes!
Here are some of the most interesting millet recipes we’ve come across on the internet.
Meanwhile, I’m taking the easy way out and reordering these delicious chocolate-ragi cookies on amazon - both my toddler and my baby boy love munching on them, and to top it off, they’re Aasiya di approved! ;)
About Lea Ramapuram: Lea is a writer-mom to two beautifully exhausting kids under two. She finds sanity and purpose in reading and writing amidst the chaos.