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Advocating proper nutrition for children • Vera Osei-Bonsu’s journey with Start Right

BY: Efia Akese

Eight years ago, Vera Osei-Bonsu, a new mother, was looking for meals to wean her baby she had exclusively breastfed for six months.

During her search, she realised that with the exception of the popular “mmore koko” (corn dough porridge), which most mothers weaned their babies with, almost all the baby foods on the market were imported.

“I realised there was a gap because we have many nutritious food ingredients in Ghana but on the market, the shelves were flooded with foreign products. I also realised that the ‘koko’ we served our babies was mainly carbohydrate, which wasn’t balanced or fortified and that is when my research began,” she told The Mirror in an interview recently.

Ms Osei-Bonsu has no background in nutrition or child health. It was her curiosity that led her to identify certain local meals and learn how to combine them for infants and toddlers.

“Till date, when I interact with some health experts, they ask if I had studied nutrition because of how passionate and detailed I am with my presentations. Once I realised the gap, I began to read a lot about baby foods and the importance of nutrition in children. I read that some babies had allergic reactions to certain foods so I took my time to try which one worked and created simple but nutritious recipes for babies,” she said.

Ms Osei-Bonsu said another factor that motivated her to search for nutritious local baby meals was to help address the issue of malnutrition in babies in Ghana and Africa.

She realised that one of the challenges some parents faced was their inability to afford some imported baby foods and so her focus was also to develop pocket-friendly recipes.

Sharing recipes on Facebook
She tried recipes with local foods such as sweet potatoes, pawpaw, beetroot, mango, dates and others which were not difficult to find and started sharing them on her Facebook page: World Healthiest Food Recipes for Babies and Infants.

“Within a short period, the numbers on the page started growing and people were asking for more details on the recipes. Interestingly, most of the people who made these enquiries were foreigners. Many of my followers started sharing the recipes and this attracted more people. With time, some Ghanaians also joined the page,” she said.

Then she shared the recipes in her free time as she was employed full time. She said her inbox was usually full of questions from parents, particularly mothers who were looking for a variety of meals for their babies.

Sometimes some of the messages were unanswered for a long period so after a while she decided to give her phone number to people who needed urgent responses.

“It was during this period that I realised how much people needed my help; some had questions on how to start, how to store different meals, reheating and many other concerns,” she stated.

Ms Osei-Bonsu started seeing results with her daughter. Her weight kept increasing at the monthly child welfare clinics (weighing), with nurses frequently asking her to share some of her recipes with other mothers.

Part of her work involves educating nursing mothers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and how to introduce meals to babies six months and older

“Most people were surprised when I told them they could mix blended pawpaw with breastmilk and use it as garnish for their babies or serve alone. There were days I spent hours at these centres teaching mothers simple recipes. I also received many requests from churches and other groups wanted me to teach their members,” she explained.

Start Right Nutrition
Due to the number of requests, in 2018, she wrote and launched the first infant and toddler’s recipe book for Ghanaian children titled “Start Right”.
The book contained different simple recipes and at the launch all 500 copies were sold.

She had plans of printing more copies of the book but some mothers asked her to create ready-to-prepare forms of her ingredients in powder forms and that led to the start of her food business.

From 2018 till date, her outfit has developed and sold different baby food products across all regions in Ghana.

Recently, she rebranded the part of her company that produces the baby foods as Eat Smart Foods while Start Right Nutrition handles her advocacy on proper nutrition in children

These 100 per cent natural cereal powders are approved by the Food and Drugs Board Authority and require only five minutes to cook them.

Earlier in the year, she rebranded the part of her company that produces the baby foods as Eat Smart Foods while Start Right Nutrition handles her advocacy on proper nutrition in children.


What started as a hobby has  turned into a business, employing a number of people

Advocacy
Although Ms Osei-Bonsu sells her products in many mother care shops around the country, she says her focus is not just on profit but to ensure that babies are well fed.

On her social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, with over 30,000 followers in total, she advocates proper nutrition and encourages mothers to pay attention to the health and development of their babies.

She also has a website: eatsmartfoodsgh.com where she shares tips, recipes and advocates exclusive breastfeeding for six months and introduces health local meals after.

On social media, she advocates for proper nutrition by sharing recipes and feeding tips

Another important part of her advocacy work is supporting some malnourished babies in the rural areas.

She said a couple of years ago, a nurse based in the Volta Region who saw her work on social media reached out to her to support some children who were malnourished.

“These children needed more than just food items and so I reached out to other mothers on our social media platforms for financial assistance and we were able to raise money to cover their hospital bills, transportation and other costs.

“Sadly, we lost two of them as their condition had deteriorated before we got involved. I am grateful to our community which continue to support our advocacy work and keep us in business,” she noted.

At the Africa Green Revolution Forum in 2019, Ms  Osei- Bonsu who represented Ghana and the office of the First Lady, joined stakeholders in nutrition across the world  to deliberate   on policies affecting global nutrition

Ms Osei-Bonsu’s work has not gone unnoticed. Aside the numerous referrals and endorsements from many mothers, she is the current Nutrition Champion in Ghana for Nutrition Conversations Africa under Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a Swiss-based foundation launched at the United Nations in 2002 to tackle human suffering caused by malnutrition.

In 2019, she was adjudged the Most Outstanding and Inspiring Woman in Food & Nutrition by AfricMedia Galaxy and Ghana Women in Aviation.

Ms Osei- Bonsu interacting with Dr  Owusu Afriyie Akoto, Minister for Food and Agriculture  at the Africa Green Revolution Forum in 2019

In the same year, she was also recognised by Nutrition Connect under FAO as a promising and rising individual changing the narrative on Nutrition in Ghana.

“These recognitions indicate that our work is appreciated but our biggest joy comes from the results and positive feedback we receive from the mothers who use our products and recipes,” the mother of three added.

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