The Melghat region of India is known for its high rates of child malnutrition. In response to this challenge, World Vision India devised an innovative technique for change, not only targeting attitude and behavior, but also aiming to address the source of the problem, with … a cooking contest!
Traditionally, the role of homemaker – including cooking – is bestowed upon the women of the household in India. World Vision’s idea aims to bring about change in the cooking habits of every household, leading to health-conscious cooking. To do so, women are being empowered to cook with nutrition in mind.
Phase I of the project declared a cooking contest … with a twist. Participants had to prepare a recipe with high nutritional value, but there was a catch: the recipe could only use locally available ingredients.
The contest was announced through community development coordinators. Self-Help Groups interested in the contest were asked to come up with innovative recipes. Twenty-one groups came forward.
Ready to test their culinary skills, women gathered in their villages to brainstorm. Some zeroed in on sweet dishes, others on savory. From pudding to stuffed bread, the region of Melghat became filled with the aroma of a wide array of indigenous, health-conscious food.
Among the competitors were women from the villages of Badnapur and Solamoh. Both lacked one key element: livestock. Milk deprived, the women challenged themselves to design a recipe for rice pudding, which requires milk.
Despite the odds, the women of Badnapur decided to get creative and design a recipe that used milk from soybeans.
"We had heard that soymilk has a lot of protein and could be used to make milk tea," says Usha Subesh Mahalai, a member of the self-help group. “It was only when World Vision India announced the cooking contest that the women of the village got charged up. We devised a recipe to use soymilk in the kheer [rice pudding]. My kids love it.”
At the end of round one, 15 groups were selected to undergo training with Anita Telang, a senior dietician from Government Hospital in Amravati. After analyzing their recipes, she made suggestions to increase the nutritional value of the dishes. The women were also trained to understand the nutritional value of each ingredient.
The women began including these new health tips in their daily cooking.
Finally, 13 self-help groups and their dishes were showcased in a one-of-a-kind nutrition exhibition at Chikhaldara.
The recipes were printed together in a booklet so people could see the ingredients used and calorific values. The dishes catered to all tastes, ranging from amaranth grain and peanut sweet balls in the sweet category to pumpkin stuffed Indian bread in the savory section.
Locals came from all over the region to witness this unique and community-inclusive initiative for battling malnutrition. More than 300 pregnant and lactating mothers, newly married women, and adolescent girls were targeted. Local colleges and schools also participated in the exhibition, extending their full support to the cause of eradicating malnutrition.
The recipe of the day and favorite dish was the soybean milk kheer.
The exhibition was also graced with the presence of government officials, mainly from the health-care sector, who highly commended the efforts of World Vision.
The nutrition exhibition not only created awareness of how to cook nutritious meals, but also started a trend of healthy eating practices using local ingredients.
In Phase II, World Vision is rolling out these winning recipes in households. A demonstration is conducted in front of the women to show them how to make each dish. The plan is to teach all 13 recipes to all the villages. Currently, the implementation of the kheer recipe is underway.
"Women are actively taking interest in improving the health of their children by incorporating all that they have learnt practically at home by cooking nutritious meals for their children,” says Sushila, a community development coordinator for World Vision India.
The local recipes are cooked often and are doing wonders for the children of the community. Children who were categorized as malnourished are now gaining weight.
Once categorized as severely malnourished, Hemlata now stands strong and healthy with her weight in the normal realm. A six-year-old sponsored child, she says, "I love to eat kheer because it is sweet."
Now aware of healthy cooking techniques and the benefits of nutritious food, pregnant and lactating mothers are taking care of their health by eating right, leading to lower risks while giving birth and higher chances of having healthier babies.
Between February 2011 and May 2012, the number of malnourished children in Badnapur decreased from 42 to 10; 14 cases in Solamoh decreased to 1.
With innovative, community-inclusive initiatives such as food exhibitions, the World Vision team is working tirelessly toward making malnutrition history in the Melghat region.
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