Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist at all. All I can claim is that I am a mommy raising my children in rural West Africa, living alongside my African sisters. We all share the desire to give our children a good start in life, and this has given me an interest in nutrition. Here's some of my favorite resources and findings. But I am definitely no authority on the subject. Your comments, criticisms and additions are needed at the end of this article!

 

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For someone raising their children in Africa, there is much to be intimidated and discouraged about in the many health fads and diet guidelines that abound in the West. I am sure that chia seeds and walnuts and blueberries and quinoa are good and healthy, not to mention delicious, but they are not options for me. And even if by some fancy logistical footwork and help of Western friends I was able to get some, they would still be out of reach for all my friends who make their meals with whatever they can grow on their farm. When it comes to nutrition, what I am really interested in is foods that are not only nutritious, but cheap and accessible as well. For us, and for the people we are living among.

 

As far as food groups, vitamins, minerals, etc, there is a lot of information out there. I like the following resources:

 

Nutrition for Developing Countries by Felicity Savage King and Ann Burgress

 

Agriculture, Food and Nutrition for Africa by FAO (read HERE) especially chapter 7

 

So how do we make sure our families are getting adequate nutrition? In a way, the answer is quite simple. Eat a variety of foods, whole foods whenever possible, fresh fruit and vegetables and protein. You know the drill.

 

And yet sometimes, that is so much easier said than done. We have a 5 month dry season with no rain. Fresh vegetables are difficult to get. Fruit is sometimes abundant, and sometimes non-available. We live in a small village where you can't buy anything. Occasionally, someone butchers an animal but meat is usually not found. We have no electricity yet and stuff just doesn't keep all that well in 100 F. I am sure that whatever your location is, you have your own set of obstacles. It may be cost, or availability. Shall we resign ourselves to a dismal diet? No!! I firmly believe that with an open mind, ready to learn from our local neighbors and from the many resources available to us, we can eat healthier than we thought at first was even possible.

 

Animal proteins tend to be more expensive, and harder to obtain and store. However, the good news is that you can get protein from plant foods. Whole grains, legumes, seeds, even vegetables can be surprisingly high in protein. The old ideas that these plant proteins need to be carefully combined to form "complete proteins" are now believed to be myths (albeit very long-lived myths that are still endorsed in many books!) It is always best to eat a variety of foods but you don't have to be a scientist to cook nutritiously :)

 

So on to practical life. I have been searching for a cheap, accessible solution to some of these questions. Meat is just not a really dependable option for us though we do enjoy it when we have some. Fish is a little more available. We like eggs and eat them... but we can't haul too many dozen from town. However, in our area, black-eyed peas are commonly grown and are comparatively cheap. FAO has a list of all the nutritional requirements we have, with foods that supply each, and dried beans are listed as significant suppliers of every single one of these: protein, iron, calcium, folic acid, other B vitamins and biotin.
So bring on the beans! I think they deserve the title of Superfood for Africa. Our family eats beans every single day for lunch. I cook on charcoal, so I simply use my breakfast fire to simmer a pot of beans all morning. We usually eat them with a sprinkle of gari (dried ground cassava) and shito (a spicy oil-based sauce that is also common here. One of the main ingredients is tiny dried whole fish that are pounded to powder and are an awesome source of calcium - hello fish bones! I make my own sauce so it is a little less spicy, which helps my little people to eat more of it. I love this sauce since you can make a big batch of it and it keeps without a fridge! One of the few convenience items we have.)
(bonus points!!! having the same thing for lunch every day has been a major stress reducer and brain-space-saver for mommy! :)

 

This is just an example of the kind of thing that I am looking for. It's good for us, AND we can actually get it, AND so can our neighbors and friends.

 

Some of the other items we can easily get our hands on are mangoes, papayas, avocados, and a variety of green leaves. Each of these things have their seasons, but there is usually some kind of leaf available, whether a tree leaf, or what we would call a "weed". One of our favorite leaves is Leaf Amaranth, which is pulled out of gardens in the US and known as red root. This is high in calcium and iron. Cassava leaf is surprisingly high in protein. It really pays to learn from your local friends what "weeds" are edible. I may not be able to have carrots and spinach all the time, but we can get some vitamins all the same. Another good example of this is the baobab fruit... It has a dry pulp with a nice flavor that is very high in vitamin C. In the middle of dry season, when there was very little fresh available, my children were out with the village kids, munching on these fruits.

 

Besides for learning from our local friends, there is a wealth of information out in the big wide world. My favorite source is the ECHO community, an organization devoted to ending world hunger. It is a huge network of people all over the world, working with Agriculture and Nutrition, and they have so many resources available! I spent about a week browsing the ECHO library in Florida while my husband took one of their classes... but i could have stayed a lot longer. My favorite books from them are

 

Amaranth to Zai Holes
Agricultural Options for Small-Scale Farmers

 

Both are full of countless bits of information related to growing, processing and preparing all kinds of nutritious foods. They are available from echocommunity.org. You can also sign up for their newsletter which is always full of such interesting things. From ECHO, we have learned about several incredible, easily grown green vegetables such as Chaya, Katuk, and Malabar Spinach. And of course Moringa. Moringa trees are easy to grow in Africa and the leaves are a true superfood. I keep a supply of dried moringa in the city where we sometimes stay for a break, and my kids have no objection to green smoothies as long as they taste good. (bonus points!! moringa is even one of those fads in the US! Haha, it's not like I really keep up with those even when we are Stateside. :)

 

Just a few more examples. We can't get walnuts and sunflower seeds, but it is very easy to find sesame seeds and a variety of other seeds that I don't know in English. Instead of white rice, we can get locally grown brown rice which adds a boost of fiber and vitamins. Whole grains are common here - corn, sorghum, and millet. Millet is very nutritious and high in protein - why not cook millet instead of rice sometimes? We like coarsely ground millet grits for breakfast. Fonio is another ancient grain available here, high in iron, calcium and protein. By the way, the whole hotly debated gluten question (if it is a concern to you... not trying to open the debate here!) would basically be a non-issue here in our area since the only wheat products are luxury items that are only found in town.

 

Of course, your location may have completely different food options and limitations. Basically, the point of this long story is to get creative and keep an open mind. You may not going to be able to have a big kale salad with olive oil dressing every day... with a grilled chicken breast and mashed cauliflower. But with an open mind and a learner's attitude there is also no reason to exist on white rice alone. Of course a lot more could be said about this subject - and there are myriads of practical questions as far as how to prepare some of these things so my kids (and their parents...) will actually eat them. It's a journey! :) Some final bonus points? Lack of Vitamin D (formed in the human body by exposure to sunlight) is a growing concern in North America, but living in Africa... well... We have things to worry about but that one is crossed off my list. :)

Have you found any creative solutions for your family's nutrition? We would love to hear!!

 

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Lysanne is a mom of two who currently juggles (more or less successfully) at least three cultures in her daily life. She was born in Holland, lived in the US, married an American in Africa, and is currently raising her own tck's (or is it 4ck's?) in a small village in West Africa. This life is often fun, sometimes not, but is certainly interesting, and she is glad to be on this journey with God and with the man of her dreams.Lysanne

As dawn breaks over West Africa, our small village comes to life and simultaneously, my children wake up. When we moved to Africa to start our long-term ministry, we decided that for us, language and culture learning would be most efficient if we lived in the middle of the people whose language we were learning, sharing every part of life with them. So here we are, sharing a mud compound with eleven other people, and living in the middle of everything in every respect. This has many perks, such as the fact that since we moved I never once overslept my alarm. Things like that have a way of making a person feel quite accomplished - an instant morning person, just what I always wanted. Never mind the fact that it's not exactly voluntary.

It seems that my kids always wake up famished and the scramble for breakfast starts immediately. My cooking happens on charcoal and I'm relieved that the grandmother of the family already has a fire blazing, so my breakfast preparations get a nice kickstart. Meanwhile, my husband huddles around a little fire outside of the compound with the other men. The kids love the little fire... My oldest (4) gathers armfuls of grass and sticks and soon the fire is not so little anymore. The temperatures in dry season drop to all of sixty in the mornings... and if the days are up to 100 F that really does feel cold!  No complaints from me. I am putting some water on my fire to make myself some coffee... It's not real coffee, of course, but even instant will help to sustain my not so convincing morning person-persona.

By now, my brain is starting to wake up as well and I mentally prepare for another day of language. I have discovered a strange and interesting phenomenon. Language learning makes me feel so weird... Like a split person... Like almost schizophrenic...or maybe I should just say, it's a real roller coaster. Two sides of me-one saying: wow! I am learning this language! And the other one: I will never. ever. learn this language. These two me's flip back and forth all day long, sometimes from one minute to the next. Buckle your seatbelt for language learning... It is fun, it is hard, it is exciting and it is boring.

A lady walks into the compound with a large bucket on her head... Selling morning porridge. Thankful that I don't have to think about what to make, I buy several calabash dippers full and my oldest is happy. We were on a short 5 month missions trip in Africa when she was a baby starting on solids, and African foods are her comfort foods. Quite convenient for me. I complete the transaction and some small talk... Wow! I am learning this language! I utilize my fire to cook beans for lunch instead.

After breakfast, I take my bucket and head to the pump for water, the girls trailing behind me. This is where the women of the village hang out. Several conversations fill the air. I scramble to pick up even one word. How will I EVER learn this language? One of the ladies comes over and greets me and I am able to respond correctly and answer her questions about my plans for the day. Maybe I AM learning. Then it's my turn at the pump... And to carry it home. No matter how hard I try, this I WILL not learn, ever. I need both hands, tightly, while my neighbor girl waltzes by with eight gallons on her head, unsupported. Ah well. Know your limits.

One of my friends stops by and I grab the chance for some more language while my girls play. We get on the topic of tone... Words that are identical except for their tone. I can't even.... and I will NEVER.

After doing some wash, which I do almost daily to avoid the depressing sight of a mountain that needs to be washed by hand, it's lunchtime. This always comes sooner than I expect and is signalled by a sudden contagious meltdown among the kids. I am grateful I have beans cooked and we make a quick lunch of those. I'm not sure where my husband is.... Off with the village men either farming or hunting. The great advantage of living in a community like this is that wherever he is, someone will feed him lunch so I don't worry about it. We read a book and then it's naptime... My 1.5 year old quickly falls asleep on the cool cement floor and my 4-year old plays by herself on a mat. Now is my time to study. But I'm exhausted so the next thing I know is waking up. Oh dear, I will never learn this language... What AM I going to do?! The baby's still out so I take the moment to wash my dirty dishes out in a bowl in the compound. Some of the women have just come back from farm and are discussing their day. Without realizing it, I understand and ask a few questions. Oh wow, look, I'm learning after all... Are power naps language learning tools...? I think I will choose to believe so. 

The girls are both up now and we head out of the compound so they can play in the shade under the trees. I take my phone out to listen to language recordings I have made. But constant little-people-interruptions make me give up. Hopeless, this language. Then I hear my little girls fighting, using about as much English as our tribal language. I smile under my hand and resolve to LEARN this language lest even my own children get the best of me.

It's time to start making supper and to bathe some unbelievably dirty little children. We don't have electricity so I try to get things done before dark. My husband is back and I gratefully accept his offer to wash the girls,  because he's got both more patience and more determination to clean them up as well as possible. For however long it will last. I love evening time... We just swept the compound so it's nice and tidy, everyone's busy cooking and bathing in the outdoor stalls and talking, always talking. I remember that this is why we chose to live this way. To really be a part of things - and to be surrounded by language. The air is smoky, the sun sets red into the bush, and I'm in love with our life.

Now for supper. I am going to make the staple dish of cornmeal mush tonight, just like everyone else. My new grandmother has spent a lot of time teaching me how, but even yet, I'm a whole lot more awkward at it than even the young girls and that is funny. Except not really funny to me. Forget it, what we need is a house far away from anyone so i can just cook in peace! Then an old lady walks into the compound. 'Nemoti! (my new name) you are making tizet?' and she turns to our house grandmother and says - 'Then she is really trying to be like us!' - and up swings the roller coaster, over the little mud huts and the grass roofs, over the dirt and the smoke, to a glorious height right into the sunset. Let tomorrow come as may... I am going to try to stay in this precarious little spot just for tonight.

 

Hey, TCKmoms, this is our final "Day in the Life". Hasn't it been fun to get a peek into each other's lives? If any of you didn't participate in the giveaway but would still like to write a "Day in the Life" I'd love to hear from you!! You can fill out the email form here, or you can simply click "reply" if you're receiving this as an email. I also welcome questions, suggested topics, recipes, stories, and guest posts from our readers!

 

The day started out like a lot of other days, with my dear Tanzanian friend showing up for work around 8:30. "Karibu!" I welcomed her in, and we exchanged greetings in Swahili... "How is it here?" "How is your house?" "How are the children?" "How is your son?" Our three boys came one by one to greet her, putting their hands on her head and respectfully greeting with "Shikamoo!".

After everyone was thoroughly greeted, the two of us headed to the kitchen to discuss the day's projects. At this point in our lives, we've only been in the country for nine months, and are still very much into language study. Fortunately for me, my helper-friend, Ikupa, speaks almost no English, so our communication is forced to be entirely in Swahili. I gave her a run-down of the day's plans, with a little confusion and clarification needed as I tried throwing in a new Swahili word. After she started "kuosha vyombo" (doing the dishes), I sought out my Swahili book and started studying. I usually don't get much study done in a day, since homeschooling, cooking, sewing, and people (especially little people:-) make up a big part of my life. As I read through the chapter, I became frustrated and discouraged, as I realized I did NOT get it. I don't have a language teacher, ao although there are people around to ask questions of if I can't understand what the book is trying to say, it can be very discouraging. I wondered aloud if maybe  it would be possible to just skip that lesson completely and hope it'll come later! Soon I was needed by the children, and the morning began slipping away into the many things that make up a Mama's life. Soon after 11:00 I put a pot of rice on to cook, and was just ready to start with the vegetables, when I got the call for Ikupa and I to go to one of the other houses to discuss a rental arrangement in which she would be caring for the property in exchange for renting two rooms. My husband and I are nearly at the same place in language study, with him being a little ahead of me. But because we needed to discuss things with my friend, he asked me to act as interpreter for him! I was glad for the challenge, so we spent the next 20 minutes or so with him laying out the details in English, and I did my best to translate them into Swahili. I'm very thankful that Ikupa is quite accustomed to working with and understanding Wazungu (white people) who are still learning the language. My grammar is quite bad at times, but we were able to get the point across, and with my husband double checking my Swahili, we were fairly confident that the agreement was made with understanding on both sides. After we were finished, Ikupa and I hurried back up to the house, me to finish lunch and her to finish cutting up a pile of mangoes. Lunch was a bit late, but nobody seemed to mind. After lunch was finished, Ikupa headed for home and the two youngest boys went down for naps. I knew I had a pile of dishes in the kitchen to clean up....but first I headed outside to talk with a friend, and spent the next hour or so chatting in our arbor. After a morning full of Swahili and a deep conversation afterwards, my brain felt a little numb. My husband arrived back from market about then with a bucket full of rice, a  pile of bananas, a huge sack of potatoes, and a few other items that needed to be unloaded and taken inside. I had somehow managed to run low on those staples all at the same time, so I was very grateful to have our supply restocked. The kitchen eventually got cleaned up, and by then it was nearly suppertime. :-) I was thankful that this was the evening we were sharing a meal with the other workers, and my part in making it was quite minimal so it all came together about a half hour before we needed to leave the house.

And the Swahili continues, day after day after day....many times it feels like I'm making no progress, especially since we have agreed that my main focus needs to be on our three boys, rather than on language study. But as I realize that I'm able to communicate more and more with Ikupa and others, and often when I hear an English word or phrase, the Swahili translation comes to mind automatically, I'm encouraged to think that it IS coming, even if it's slower than I'd like. Sometimes I think God gives extra grace to the mother of little children...it often seems when I keep my priorities straight and put my husband and the children before these other 'goals', the details somehow fall into place. I'm so thankful for His love and mercy, and the assurance that He cares about even the small things in our lives.

I have asked myself this question more than once in Africa. The thought is a very depressing one. But it seems like we went from one diarrhea episode to the next, and we were at the point where I could hardly sleep at night waiting for one of the girls to start throwing up. Then they both got malaria at once. At that point, I was ready to call it quits. I am so glad for the encouragement of my colleagues. Things are going much better now! Here's a few of the things I learned.

 

1. Pray! Coming to Africa, my worst fear was that my kids would always be sick. And the first couple months, they certainly were. Looking back now, I see it as a precious time where I had to face my fears, my faith, and the reality of God's love. These things are certainly not too small for God. We have seen so many prayers answered and we are so thankful.

 

2. Filter your drinking water. We carry a Sawyer filter everywhere we go and it has made a dramatic difference.

 

3. Build the immune system. When we first moved to a small village it was overwhelming to think of the amount of dirt and germs my children came into contact with. But one of the senior members of our organization encouraged me not to worry so much about germs, but more about keeping their immune system strong. Did you know a large part of the immune system is based in the intestines? You can feed the beneficial flora in your gut with lots of fermented products. When we have access to refrigeration, we eat lots of yogurt. Also, our people in West Africa have several fermented dishes that we learned to like and eat as often as we can. On the other hand, sugar and refined starches do not help your intestinal health so you may want to cut back some on those. We also take a probiotic supplement sometimes. Especially if it has been necessary to take an antibiotic for any reason, try to rebuild your intestinal health.

 

4. Set up a hand washing station. We do not have running water so my husband came up with a nifty way to solve this problem. He connected a small faucet to a bucket with a lid and built a kid-size table for it. A basin catches the water and a bar of soap hangs from a string on the bucket handle. Now, my girls can wash their hands easily.

 

5. Breastfeed, if you can. You won't have nearly as many worries about clean water, sterilized bottles, etc. My youngest is currently twenty months old and (shhh!) I'm still nursing her. I'm not at all sure I would do so in the States but it really does wonders for the immune system. Plus, if they do get sick, you can nurse and be sure to keep them hydrated. Obviously, not everyone can do this. But it is a thought to consider.

 

6. Consider new allergies. Neither of my children was allergic to anything in the US. But after more puke episodes than I'd like to remember, i finally figured out that my youngest is allergic to African (true) yams, and it causes projectile vomiting. Thank you very much, it was SUCH a relief to find a solution for that problem.

 

7. Find a malaria preventative you're happy with if malaria is a problem in your area. Okay, it's hard to be happy about having to take any preventative but malaria is truly dangerous for children. Also,  use nets, etc.

 

8. Teach your children not to put anything or their unwashed hands in their mouths. And yes, that's easier said than done and we are still hardcore working on this one.

 

9. De-worm regularly. Wear sandals or shoes outside since some types of worms enter through the feet.

 

10. Rinse dishes and raw vegetables with water with a few drops of bleach. If desired, rinse again in clean drinking water.

 

11. Lastly, try to have everyone get enough rest. It does wonders for your health. And with that said, I'm going to sign off. Goodnight! :-)

 

What are some of the things you've found helpful for your family's health?

Note: Sometimes even when we're doing all the "right" things, our children will still get sick! Don't blame yourself . . . and hang in there! It won't last forever, even if it feels like it!

Roxanne: I wake up every morning at 6 am because the sun has been up a little while and because it's the only time I have to exercise and shower without little helpers. :) My husband and I run a children's home in Central America. We have two biological children 11 and 8 years of age and 4 foster children 14 months, 12 months, 8 months and 7 months of age. So, if I don't exercise, shower, get dressed, put on make up and pull my hair back before they all wake up, it may never happen. Praise God, we have two wonderful women who help us most days. Around 7:30 am all the babies eat breakfast, which is usually eggs and beans or cereal, fruit and yogurt. I try to eat something sometime during all of that too. It's usually standing up or gobbled quickly in between the bites I'm feeding at least two children, sometimes all four. Then it's time to clean up trays, faces, chairs and dishes. At 8:30 the older kids and I start home school. During that time, a baby or two always crawls in and wants to play with the computer, our papers and our books. Then it's time for lunch. That's a fun time with food and drinks going everywhere. And, obviously lots of screaming. Who can eat lunch without screaming? After cleaning all the dirty faces, chairs and trays, I work on my other job, co-director of the  children's home. That is full of paperwork, emails and research. Our workers leave around 3.30 or 4 pm, so fixing dinner is always full of interruptions too. Someone always needs a bottle and there are always two or three diapers to change while chopping, cleaning, and cooking. The babies eat first, because it's easier to feed  them and then eat, than it is to try to eat and feed babies. Dinner is followed by bath time. Bathing four babies, changing them and getting them into bed with a song (Jesus Name Above All Names) takes about an hour. I forgot to mention the laundry, sweeping and mopping. That has to get done sometime in there too. I am more than grateful for the two helpers God send me, because without them, there is no way I could do anything but care for six children and the house. My work is tiring, picking up lots of toys, food and dirt on the floor, changing diapers, teaching big kids lessons about life and doing my best to listen to God and He shows us how to run a children's home. There are other things that I can't put into words, the hours at the bank trying to run an errand, the long slow lines at the grocery store, the power outages, the days without water, or the days with water, but it's so muddy I'm not sure it's cleaning anything. But, it's all taught me so much that I wouldn't change a thing. I've seen people live with great joy who have so much less than me- dirt floors, a river as theirwashing machine and shower and no electricity, that I realize my "trials" really aren't trials at all. God proves Himself faithful on a daily basis to provide for us monetarily, emotionally, physically and spiritually. He's grown me in ways I could have never grown in the States, so I'm thankful for it all, because He is always with me.

Sorry if this is hard to follow, but I just tried to write about a normal day. and throw in the other hiccups that may occur. I didn't really want to focus on the "hard" times because God always sees us through them and He teaches me in them. I think the hardest part about our life may be the things we go without, a store close-by, the ability to get fast-food, consistent electricity, clean water, but I am by no means the only person living this way. There are stresses missionaries feel that are also hard to put into words, such as, are we performing enough for our supporters? People also judge you by how your children act and if your marriage seems perfect. They can be quick to judge how efficient you are without really knowing what it's like to live in your country. All that said, we have so much more than almost all of the people who live in this country, and God is teaching all of us such amazing lessons, that I can't really complain. I am blessed far more than I deserve.

 

Phyllis: My days are pretty much the same, and yet nothing's ever the same in them! How is that? Usually we get up, eat breakfast, and start homeschooling. We do "Morning School" first, which is everyone together for read aloud and shared study. Then we separate and work through lists, with the older three bouncing back and forth to me when they need help or alone for what they can do independently. (That doesn't go as smoothly as it sounds in writing.) Then lunch. After lunch the youngest still has a nap. Others go to music and/or art school, or if it's a day when they stay home, they have a quiet reading time, too. After quiet time and outside lessons, sometimes we still have more to finish from the morning. In the evening it's just supper, baths, bed, unless we have some other event going on. And like I said, nothing is ever the same in our days. There's always something to stir things up and make life... interesting. :-)