Ensuring good nutrition for your family during a pandemic

by James Kamuye Kataru
Dried Eshibambala fish. Photo by Ramadhan Khatete

Recently a friend shared the picture of Eshibambala fish in the SAWBO Kenya Network WhatsApp group chat which brought back nostalgic memories of my growing up. As a young boy in a family of ten that loved to have Eshibambala fish for dinner every Friday evening, my siblings and I would relish the sweet aroma, tasty soup from this fish, and the amazing sound sleep we’d have after a sumptuous dinner. As most families in my village, having Eshibambala for dinner was sufficient reason for young boys to take a cold evening shower in anticipation of a session of several balls of Ugali and Eshibambala soup. This was an experience worth boasting about to other children the following day as we grazed the family animals and played along the riverside.

Memories of this dried and salted fish got me thinking of how families can use knowledge in the animated video “Ensuring good nutrition during a pandemic”, to produce, preserve and store tasty, nutritious food to feed their families during pandemics like the Covid-19. This is when households experience food scarcity, changes, and challenges to how they perform their chores like farming and shopping for essentials from the markets and malls.  Some habits have changed for good as we adjust to conform to the Covid-19 protocol. For example, working and attending classes online from home is a routine that’s become the new normal for employees and learners across the world.

The video was produced by the Feed the Future Scientific Animations Without Borders Responsive Adaptive Participatory Information Dissemination Program (SAWBO RAPID), a project of Scientific Animation without Borders (SAWBO). SAWBO RAPID has produced animations identifying critical food security topics and delivering knowledge to mitigate COVID-19’s secondary economic impacts, including disruption to trade, supply chains, and markets. The project is based at Michigan State University and Purdue University in the U.S. is funded by USAID under the Feed the Future initiative and is supported by the USAID Kenya Mission. SAWBO has been creating animations and delivering knowledge globally for over a decade. The SAWBO library contains over 1,000 animations on 100+ different topics in over 200 language variants reaching over 45 million known viewers. Visit the SAWBO website for more information.

The limiting of movement and congregating due to the pandemic has caused a reduction in farming activities, scarcity of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other foods that provide a balanced diet to households. As we all know, good nutrition is important for a family’s health. Nutritional needs vary according to age, gender, and health conditions hence the need for a balanced diet to help strengthen immunity against diseases.

What is a nutritious meal?

A nutritious meal contains food from various food groups like beans and pulses, dairy products, eggs, meats, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, cereals, and tubers. A nutritious meal should provide the body with sufficient carbohydrates which provide energy to the body,  proteins that build and gives organs and tissues their shape, fat which helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, and E, vitamins, and minerals which boost the immune system.

Ensuring each family member gets these foods in sufficient quantities is a challenge during the Covid-19 pandemic. In this blog and video, we are going to learn things you can do safely to grow, access, prepare, preserve, and store a variety of foodstuffs to provide sufficient, nutritious food for your family to stay healthy and work during the epidemic.

During pandemics, there is a reduction in food supplies and farming activities which affect the entire supply chain. Knowing how to grow and produce sufficient food for your family is essential. Select a variety of crops that can be intercropped to allow you to grow more on existing land. For example, crops that grow well alongside maize include Irish potatoes, legumes, sweet potatoes, and groundnuts.

Vegetables can be grown in kitchen gardens while foods like fish, edible mushrooms and insects, wild fruits, and vegetables that are safe for human consumption can be harvested from the wild to supplement a family’s nutritional needs. As captured in our previous blogs on model farms, consider adding livestock and poultry to your farm to give meat, milk, eggs, and manure to prepare compost that can be used on your farms.

Food preparation 

There are many ways of preparing food including boiling, frying, stewing, and roasting. Some cooking methods cause nutrients to be lost from food. It is important to consider these methods while preparing your food.

Maize: Do not remove the outer cover before boiling or roasting because it destroys nutrients.

Vegetables: Wash all vegetables with clean water first before cutting to avoid losing nutrients. Do not overcook or overboil green leafy vegetables including cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, etc as they lose nutrients. Do not drain and throw away water used to cook or boil vegetables.    

Sweet/Irish potatoes: After washing with clean water, do not peel the skins off, boil with the skins on.

Legumes: Soak dried legumes like beans overnight before cooking to increase the availability of nutrients when eating.

Food preservation and storage

Food storage is keeping food in the right place, at the right temperature, and at the right time. Storage areas must be dry, well ventilated, and free from rodents and pests.  There are many ways of storing and preserving foods captured in previous videos including the jerrycan bean storage technique and using PIC bags. Food preservation stops or slows down spoilage and allows for nutrient retention.

Prolonged storage bridges seasonal gaps and aids in food distribution cutting down on waste and post-harvest losses.

Methods of food preservation include;

Drying: Reduces water in food preventing and delaying bacterial growth. This method is used to preserve fish, meat, fruits, veggies, cereals, and legumes. Dried food should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place and used within a year.

Salting and curing: This removes moisture from food and can be used to preserve meat, fish, and edible insects. Sugar is used to preserve fruits. They can be preserved in syrup or cooked in sugar to the point of thickening then stored in jars as jam.

Food salting and curing. Image courtesy of the SAWBO RAPID website

Burial in the ground: Many root vegetables like carrots and red beets can be preserved by storing them under the ground. The vegetables and soil should be cool and dry before burying and shouldn’t touch each other when stored in the ground. Ensure the vegetables are arranged in layers without touching each other and should be completely covered by the soil.

Root vegetable storage in the ground. Image courtesy of the SAWBO RAPID website

To learn more on food preparation, storage and preservation, talk to agricultural extension service providers in your area. Community Health workers and volunteers, community-based organizations, and other non-governmental organizations that train communities on these food storage techniques can be of great help too.


This video was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the terms of Contract No. 7200AA20LA00002. USAID administers US foreign assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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