Malnutrition in infancy is a global problem which leads to retardation of childhood growth and development. There is a pressing need to improve weaning strategies for infants of the developing world. Traditional Gambian weaning foods are watery and of low energy density, but addition of energy in the form of fat and carbohydrate leads to thick, viscous gruels which are difficult to ingest. Partial digestion with amylase (EC3·2·1·1)-rich flour reduces their viscosity while retaining their energy density. The aim of the present study was to measure the digestibility of a maize-based weaning food, before and after amylase digestion, in malnourished children using a 13C breath test. Ten children (aged 7–16 months; mean weight-for-age Z score −0·8) received isovolumetric and isoenergetic quantities of a maize-based weaning food naturally abundant with 13C. Breath samples were collected at intervals of 30 min for 5 h thereafter and 13CO2 enrichment was measured by isotope-ratio mass spectrometry. Percentage dose of 13C recovered increased from a mean 13·7 (SD 3·7)% before, to 18·3 (SD 5·6)% after ingestion of amylase-treated weaning foods (P < 0·1). There was a significant inverse relation between age and weight, and percentage dose of 13C recovered in children receiving amylase-treated feeds. There were no differences in concentrations of amylase in saliva of infants or breast milk of their mothers. Partial digestion of supplementary foods may improve the nutrition of undernourished weaning children, not only by reducing their viscosity, thereby increasing ingestion, but also by improving their digestion and thereby their absorption.