Whole grain bread isn’t very much fun – to a child, at least. But staff at our Kenyan micro communities know the important role food plays in life, and they’re on a whole-food mission to ensure all kids in our programs are eating a balanced diet.
Dorice, a Kenyan staff member and Horizon alumni, spoke to Walter, Irene and Maurice to learn about the nutrition program children follow. Walter leads the program as community director at Baba Nyumbani, Irene is head chef, and Maurice bakes fresh bread and other items for the community.
More fish and chicken were first onto the menu, as well as peanut butter. They also swapped out white bread and rice for their “brown” counterparts. “The children don’t like a lot of the brown meals, but we have been educating them on their nutritional benefit,” Walter says. “We try to adjust to make them enjoy the meals. We would mix maize(corn) and sorghum so that it is not purely brown or white ugali.” (Ugali is a dense porridge made from maize flour, a staple in Kenyan diets).
Food as survival
The switch to “browns” was a challenge, as it would be for most kids accustomed to sweeter white carbs — as Walter put it, “brown is healthy, but doesn’t always taste the best!” But it can’t go unnoticed that even this hurdle is a privilege many others don’t have.
“A balanced diet is for families who are able,” he says. “Right now, a big percentage of Kenyan families strive to just have a meal, let alone a balanced diet.”
It also takes knowledge of food groups and different nutrient sources to know how to balance a diet in the first place. Combined with the higher-cost barrier, making nourishing meals is much more difficult than simply following a recipe.
“It’s a hard thing to talk about,” Walter says, “especially where these children came from.”
Food as medicine
There’s no denying the positive affects children experience on the diet. Walter explained that they’ve seen a reduction in health-related problems, and cases of malnutrition are completely gone. Not only does a healthy diet prevent problems, it also is the foundation for a energized, full life.
“They are strong now,” Irene says,” and can do chores they were not able to do before.” Other benefits include greater concentration in school and the ability to participate in sports and other activities.
As head chef at Baba Nyumbani, Irene oversees meal preparation and ensures the menu has a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. “For example,” shes says, “I will serve you ugali, fish, vegetables and fruit” (that’s one of Irene’s favorite meals, too).
When children get older and move to high school (which involves physically moving, as most high school are boarding schools), they often experience a change in their diet and must adjust. “Very few high schools will provide fish or chicken,” Walter says.
It’s clear the team providing meals is passionate about the food they serve – and the children they cook for. “The moment it reaches 3 a.m., the children are on my mind. I think, ‘I should be at Baba Nyumbani preparing breakfast for the children.’ Serving them inspires me,” Irene says. “I get to serve them meals, and through that, I’m also able to put food on my own table and support my family.”
Maurice chimes in. “When I am home, I am always thinking, ‘when will morning come so I can prepare [food] so that the children are not late for school.’ My alarm goes off at 3 a.m. I get to work early to make sure I have enough time to prepare their breakfast.”