How do I figure out if cereal will be a cheap and nutritious baby food?
July 30, 2014 2:04 AM   Subscribe

We provide additional food to nursing moms and toddlers, and supplementary formula for infants (don't start on breast is best, most of our moms do nurse, this is for babies with HIV+ moms etc). Our recent evaluation shows that the 6-18 months are not doing as well as the others because they are culturally too little to eat regular food and get more watered-down formula instead, sometimes with rice mixed in. We've got tiny funding to buy more food for them and our nurse is suggesting rice cereal designed for infants, but I have no clue how to evaluate them.

I did whole food weaning with my toddlers, and everyone I know personally is granola-crunchy with the organic homemade food, but they have kitchens with refrigerators, food processors and money/time. This has to be something we can hand out once a week or month to moms with very little time, no refrigeration or kitchen past a wood fire, knife and pots. We do have clean water available. We can't rely on just training the moms because quite often these older infants are being looked after by siblings or neighbours, so it has to be something straight forward to prepare and feed them.

I would really appreciate medical/nutritionist pointers on how to evaluate the rice cereal options (Celia is what we can get discounted in bulk), and alternatives or supplementary foods we can consider, given the restrictions. I will be recommending bananas already, but avocados and sweet potatoes are not possible.

Googling seems to lead me to either product pages or why Nestle is going to kill us all. Search query suggestions are also welcome.
posted by viggorlijah to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hm, it sounds like whatever you will hand out will be better than watered-down formula! 6-8 months is when children typically start eating solids and I am not sure if cereal can replace veggies, fruit and (later) protein from animal sources. But for your target demographic it is better than nothing.

As dietary needs change between the age of 6 and 18 months, I would consider splitting them in groups and providing slightly different things to the different age groups if your budget allows.

I found this tidbit on a good overview info page: "The nutrients that are most likely to be deficient in a child's diet are calcium, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, folic acid, and vitamin B6. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not support routine supplementation for normal, healthy children. However, there is no significant risk if a parent wishes to give their child a standard pediatric multivitamin."

So maybe a multivitamin for kids on top of the cereal? (Provided it's not already added to the cereal, not to overdose.)

I wasn't able to find the table with nutritional info of the cereal you linked - you can see it on the side of the box though - is there a store near you where you could check out a box in person?

I also had the idea to check what UNICEF provides to malnourished children and maybe this page of the WFP will give you some more ideas. PDF with more info.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:03 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Could you give more formula? I breastfed but as far as I'm aware babies should still be getting the bulk of their nutrition from formula/breast milk through one. Maybe for 6-12 month olds do extra formula + multivitamin and 13-24 months do some sort of cereal? Our pediatrician advised against rice cereal because it gave a full feeling but has next to no nutritional value.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:35 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're doing really important work and I wish I had a great answer for you, but at least I can pass on what our pediatrician said and some ideas of mine. He wanted our son to eat iron-fortified rice, barely or oat cereal. If rice was constipating, he recommended a mix or just oat/barley with no rice. I understand rice often IS constipating. So, maybe you can recommend baby oatmeal? There is a lot of research showing how oatmeal is legitimately a very healthy food for adults - maybe there is literature on its use in infants too. If I have time after work I can do a lit search for you. You can get baby oatmeal in powdered form, meant to be mixed with breastmilk or formula or water. It is iron fortified. (Our son, like your kids, eats whole foods and only allowed us to spoon feed him for about a week, so we didn't have too much time to try these things out, but I think he preferred the oatmeal with fruit to rice cereal.) For an older infant you might just try instant oatmeal (no salt or sugar; commercial packets with flavor tend to be very sweet and salty) with fruit and milk or formula.
posted by Cygnet at 7:19 AM on July 30, 2014

The reason why rice cereal is recommended is strictly because rice cereal for babies is "iron fortified" - there is no other nutrition in it than just empty calories and this additional iron. Babies tend to need more iron in their diet after 6 to 9 months of age because there is not enough in breastmilk (or formula?) after that age.

Formula is meant to be increased and should be the bulk of nutrition until age 1 as mentioned above. There are even toddler formula mixes out there because, really, human babies biologically expect continued "milk" feedings up to at least 2 years old (WHO recommends breast feeding at least two years, so it would follow that formula would also be advantageous up to at least two years).

I would recommend giving MORE formula (not less, and not as watered down as it sounds like is happening) until the babies can eat more whole foods themselves.
posted by jillithd at 7:21 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think rice cereal is that easy to prepare. You're supposed to mix it with formula (not milk and not water), which means you'd have to have formula and have to have somewhere to mix it all up. Plus it's sort of unclear exactly how much to mix in, and then if the baby doesn't eat it all, you feel like you've wasted the formula. What about prepackaged pureed fruit/veggie options? They require no refrigeration before you open them and no preparation.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:06 AM on July 30, 2014

While the OP talks about rice cereal, the link goes to a multi-grain cereal that can be prepared with milk. Of course it has instructions on how to mix it (see bottom of the page). As far as I understand, the mothers are used to mixing formula and it would be straight forward to prepare a product like the one linked (x# of teaspoons of cereal + x amount of milk/water).

FWIW, I am gluten intolerant and buy cereal intended for children (rice and millet, certified gluten free) - it is ready to use stuff, just mix it in warm water/milk and it's good to eat. I eat it as porridge or use it for baking pizza, bread or cakes. Even if the rice flakes are a bit bigger (depends on brand), they dissolve quickly. I don't anticipate any issues with user error.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:31 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just so it is clearly stated, formula/breast milk is much more nutrient dense than cooked rice, rice cereal, fortified rice cereal or similar. At 6 months old, they are being given less calories if they are having their formula replaced with rice. Even specially formulated infant cereals. There is a very common misconception that sold foods will "fill up" a baby. It is just adding bulk, not calories.

The answer would be to continue giving formula at a normal concentration. If the purpose of your organization is not to tackle the cultural issues around weaning, but to enhance what these mothers were very likely taught to do by their own mothers and grandmothers, than a locally available infant cereal that is the most nutrient dense possible would be your best bet.

If it is a choice between additional formula and rice cereal? Formula is the winner nutritionally. Cost wise and culturally? Thats a trickier question.
posted by fontophilic at 11:57 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you spoken with a pediatric dietician? Someone with specialized training in this area is going to be the best situated to evaluate the different options.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:08 PM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the help! We're increasing the number of cans of formula for the toddlers under 12 months, plus powdered whole milk for the kids over 12 months, and adding fortified porridge for them, less for the under 12 month kids with guidelines to add mashed fruit and vegetables to the porridge from the family's regular food - looking into eggs as well, but only over 12 months. Our nurse is happy with this, and it works within our budget and the restraints of the situation.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:55 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older How to watch a bit of Dodger ephemera?   |   Need gift for 35 year old woman -HELP Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.