“Good things come in small packages”. This proverb holds true for the millet ‘ragi’, a tiny little seed, which has immense nutrition for your precious little one. ‘Wonder grain’, ‘super food’ are but some of the acclaims used to describe this ancient grain. Wondering how you can incorporate ragi in your baby’s diet? Read on to find out when is the right time to introduce ragi to your baby, the enormous health benefits of ragi and how you can make nutritious ragi recipes for your bundle of joy.
The first year of life is crucial for your baby’s growth and development. Exclusive breast feeding is the WHO recommendation for the first six months of life as breast milk should be the sole source of nutrition during this period. Complementary foods should be introduced at six months of age as breast milk alone is not enough to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. It is important that these complementary foods are nutrient dense, easy to make and digest.
Staples form an important component of complementary foods and not just cereals but even the humble millets like ragi, jowar, bajra and others are a healthy, organic option. They are not only easy on the pocket but have vital minerals and vitamins that are important during the growing years of infants.
The Goodness of Ragi
Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana) or Ragi as it is called in Hindi or Nachni as it is called in Marathi is a versatile millet that can be used to prepare simple, easy to make and digest recipes for babies. Not just the ease of digestibility but there are other nutritional benefits which befit Ragi as being a millet of choice for your baby to gain healthy weight.
For one, ragi has 3 times more calcium (364 mg%) than milk (120 mg%) and thirteen times that of bajra (27 mg%)! Between 6-12 months of age, your baby needs 500 mg of calcium per day. Calcium, as we all know, is vital for your baby’s teeth and bone development. Did you know that 99% of calcium is stored in teeth and bones? At birth, your baby has 300 bones which fuse together to form 206 bones like adults. Some of your baby’s bones are made wholly or partly of cartilage which is soft and flexible. During infancy and childhood, as your baby grows, the cartilage is replaced by bone for which calcium is needed. How can one then ensure that your baby gets adequate calcium for this transformation? By giving calcium rich foods like ragi, milk and milk products and so on your baby will get the required amount of calcium during this crucial phase.
Another feather in the cap for Ragi is its high fibre content which prevents constipation and ensures your baby passes stools easily. Since ragi doesn’t contain gluten it is also suitable for children who are gluten sensitive and cannot digest this protein.
Introducing Ragi as a Complementary Food
While introducing complementary foods for your baby start with liquids at six months of age and then slowly progressing to semi solids and finally moving on to solids, by the time the child is one year of age. Start with one new food at a time, with a teaspoon or two initially and then gradually increase the quantity. Ragi is well tolerated and does not cause allergic reactions in most babies. If however, there is any sign of allergy or rash, stop and try again after a couple of days. If there is no adverse reaction it means your baby can tolerate ragi and it is safe for him/her to consume ragi.
Ragi Recipes for Babies
Ragi is a versatile grain that can be used in a variety of ways to make delicious and healthy recipes both for adults and children. Here are 5 ragi recipes for babies that are nutrient dense, easy to digest and prepare.
- Ragi malt powder: Take a cup full of ragi and soak it n water. Allow germinating for 8-10 hours. After gemination, dry it in the sun. Next, roast it in a pan until the aroma wafts out. Allow it to cool and then grind it in a grinder till fine powder. Sieve it so that coarser particles can be put back in the grinder for a second round of grinding. If you are looking for a variation, then roast some nuts like pistachios and cashews and grind them. Add the ground nuts to the malt mix. This ragi malt mix should be stored in an airtight container. For mothers on move or juggling between home and work this ragi malt powder is a blessing as you can make a variety of dishes from it like porridge, kheer, halwa, and so on.
- Ragi porridge or java: Take a spoonful of ragi malt in a pan, roast it with a dollop of ghee or fat, add milk and stir to the required consistency, adding sugar if needed or better still add some mashed banana after removing from the flame and before feeding the baby. The consistency of the porridge can be thicker for older infants.
- Ragi Kanji: Take a spoonful ragi malt/flour in a pan. Add water and continue stirring so that no lumps are formed. For the sweet version add milk, sugar, cardamom powder and stir till kanji consistency. For the salted version add butter milk, salt and temper with mustard seeds, asafoetida and curry leaves.
- Ragi idli: Soak the urad dal and grind it into a paste. Add rava/semolina and ragi flour to the urad dal paste and mix well. Keep overnight. Add salt and baking powder (avoid for babies under one year) and pour a ladleful of batter in an idli mould and steam. After 10 minutes remove the idlis from mould and they are ready to serve.
- Ragi dosa: There are several recipes to make ragi dosa. The easiest is to add some ragi flour to the regular dosa batter and proceed with the recipe. Another variation is to soak the urad dal overnight and then grind it into a paste. Ragi flour is added to the ground urad paste and dosa is made. An instant option is to mix ragi flour and wheat flour in the ratio of 2:1 and then add salt, chopped onion and buttermilk to make a dosa batter. You can then proceed to make dosa on a flat pan as always.
Health Tip: Germination improves the bio-availability of nutrients in ragi, thereby improving its absorption by the body. Hence it is a good idea to use germinated malt powder in place of ragi flour.