Corn and soyabean micronutrient-fortified-blended foods (FBF) are commonly used for food aid. Sorghum and cowpeas have been suggested as alternative commodities because they are drought tolerant, can be grown in many localities, and are not genetically modified. Change in formulation of blends may improve protein quality, vitamin A and Fe availability of FBF. The primary objective of this study was to compare protein efficiency, Fe and vitamin A availability of newly formulated extruded sorghum-, cowpea-, soya- and corn-based FBF, along with a current, non-extruded United States Agency for International Development (USAID) corn and soya blend FBF (CSB+). A second objective was to compare protein efficiency of whey protein concentrate (WPC) and soya protein isolate (SPI) containing FBF to determine whether WPC inclusion improved outcomes. Eight groups of growing rats (n 10) consumed two white and one red sorghum–cowpea (WSC1 + WPC, WSC2 + WPC, RSC + WPC), white sorghum–soya (WSS + WPC) and corn–soya (CSB14 + WPC) extruded WPC-containing FBF, an extruded white sorghum–cowpea with SPI (WSC1 + SPI), non-extruded CSB+, and American Institute of Nutrition (AIN)-93G, a weanling rat diet, for 4 weeks. There were no significant differences in protein efficiency, Fe or vitamin A outcomes between WPC FBF groups. The CSB+ group consumed significantly less food, gained significantly less weight, and had significantly lower energy efficiency, protein efficiency and length, compared with all other groups. Compared with WSC1 + WPC, the WSC1 + SPI FBF group had significantly lower energy efficiency, protein efficiency and weight gain. These results suggest that a variety of commodities can be used in the formulation of FBF, and that newly formulated extruded FBF are of better nutritional quality than non-extruded CSB+.