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Toyin Onigbanjo: I have always loved the art of cooking

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Toyin Onigbanjo

Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo is a journalist, teacher, food artist, and baby food blogger She is the founder of AugustSecrets, a baby/kid friendly Nigerian food blog, aimed at making children’s meals fun, simple, and healthy. Toyin was also the second runner-up at Samsung Food Art Competition in May 2016.

AugustSecrets, which she founded, is a growing baby and toddler food solutions company with the goal of helping Nigerian mothers to feed their children healthier food options, rather than junk foods. It provides recipes online and runs a homemade food range of locally-made cereals from everyday home-grown foodstuffs like vegetables, fruits, and grains.

In this exclusive interview with Guardian Woman, Onigbanjo talks about her motivation for founding AugustSecrets and why turning local recipes for baby food could be a life-saver

What informed the founding of AugustSecrets?
As a new mother, I bought three full bags of jar purees for my son, but he refused to eat them until I made local foods like ground rice with carrots. I realised there are so many mothers going through the same problems of feeding their children the appropriate complementary foods. This is my inspiration for August Secrets.

What are the essentials benefits the book offers to mothers?
The AugustSecrets Meal Plan Book pops with colours with very easy and short recipes, given that most mothers are too busy to read. Another benefit of getting the book is that all the recipes and meal plans are from regular Nigerian and African foodstuff like rice and beans. It also contains some options for fussy eaters who miss out on good food

What were the challenges you encountered while writing the book?
The greatest challenge has been getting people to assist you with information and the next step to take. I had to source for everything myself. Nobody sees the background work that goes into a successful venture. Another challenge also is combining my day’s job with my passion for helping mothers. It is really a tough one.

You came second in the Samsung food art competition in 2016. How much of your experience from that competition did you bring to bear in this book?
I have always loved to draw and do art with food. I just had to incorporate art into my child’s food to make it more attractive for him, and it has been working. I also do food-art with other adult-related foods.

Art is natural to me and the competition made me learn other better ways to make food art. Some of our recipes like cucumber and groundnut dip are made in form of art. There is hardly a child who will reject recipes like that.

What do you think are most common mistakes Nigerian mothers make in terms of child nutrition?
Most Nigerian mothers make only one of two types of food for their children all week, which is not healthy enough. From our research with crèche and school owners, most mothers pack only noodles, spaghetti and plantain for a child all week and this means the child will lack more than 30 percent of major nutrients like protein needed for growth. Truthfully, this is not totally their fault, it is just more ideas that we need, and this is why the Augustsecrets Meal Plan is there. There are over 50 recipes and three rotatable meal plans in the book.

With prices of baby formulas and cereals increasing, what local alternatives do you think mothers can turn to and why?
With the increasing price of baby foods, we have five highly nutritious and 100 percent natural baby foods for children between 6 months to 5 years. We have 14 distributors nationwide, Ghana, UK and USA. For mothers who are unable to access our foods, natural foods remain the best and cheapest. Breastfeeding is also an economical and healthier way of feeding a child.

Tell us more about the book launch and your expectations?
For the book launch, we are hoping that other stakeholders can support us with platforms to lend our voice to reduce malnutrition in Nigeria using local foods. We also hope that mothers will get to use the book to nurture healthier children and the nation at large.

What keeps you going as an entrepreneur?
It is not easy at all. I have cried many times to sleep. The only thing that keeps me going is the joy I derive from mums who use my recipes and their children eating better. We organise periodic give-back seminars for rural women on the benefits of nutrition and how they can use affordable foodstuffs to make healthier meals for their children. We hope to have more of that in the future in partnership with more nutritionists. Information is also important. Apart from these, my short-term dream, for now, is to be able to advocate and raise funds to take food to children in the IDP camps and other crisis-prone zones.

Is your childhood a factor in what you are currently doing?
I think my childhood prepared me for this project I am doing today because I have always loved to draw cartoons and tell stories. Everyone in Federal Government Staff School, Sokoto knew my sister and I for drawing cartoons, writing stories and also leading at cooking sessions. I have always loved the art of cooking.

What is or are your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life is “Do all you can to use your God-given talents to affect the world positively. Life is short.

Considering the economic system of Nigeria today, what advice do you have for women who are looking at having several number of children?
I will strongly suggest that they devise the birth control method and only have children they can cater for. There are too many children without proper parental care and it affects the society adversely.

Your words of advice to women
There is a reason God made you a woman, enjoy your womanhood. Find your purpose in life and seek to fulfill it. Let love be your guide. Do all these quickly when you can, for life is short.
I ask for help. Everyone around me now know this is what I want with my life, and they joyfully support me in my various responsibilities. I enjoy a great support from my husband, in-laws and extended family. I also delegate my duties and plan ahead for my day. Women need a lot of support.

Who is Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo?
I am a wife, a mother, a journalist, a recipe developer and a children food blogger. I have a B.A in English and Literature, and Masters in Public and International Affairs, but my passion and purpose in life is anything that has to do with the welfare of children and the family. As a single lady, I used to run a club, Treasures Kiddies Club just for children in my neighbourhood.


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Toyin Onigbanjo

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