Cooking up recipes to reduce malnutrition in India

Malnutrition runs rampant in the Melghat region of central India, but World Vision is working with women in this region to change that.

By Annila Harris and Kristy J. O’Hara
Published September 11, 2013 at 03:30am PDT

Just as pleasant aromas fill a home as dinner cooks, new hope is wafting throughout the Melghat region of central India.

Malnutrition runs rampant here. From 2010 to 2011, the infant mortality rate was 48 per 1,000 births, compared to 33 per 1,000 births for the state of Maharastra, where it’s located.

A contest

Seeing the problem, World Vision challenged the women in the region to a cooking contest to develop healthy, nutrient-rich recipes using only locally available products. It was a new, creative approach to combating the problem, and the goal was to change every household’s cooking habits.

The women responded enthusiastically.

Twenty-one groups from the two villages of Badnapur and Solamoh entered the contest. One group dreamed even bigger, wanting to develop a recipe for rice pudding. They had one small problem: Milk is the key ingredient, but neither community has cows or goats, though one has a few buffalo.

“The presence of livestock is minimal. None of the families here have access to milk,” says Sushila, a World Vision community development coordinator.

Finding solutions

Despite these constraints, the women discovered that they could create the dish using a nontraditional milk source — soybeans — which are readily available because they’re grown to generate income in the area.

“We had heard that soy milk has a lot of protein and could be used to make milk tea, but we never thought we could use it practically,” says Usha Subesh Mahalai, a contest participant.

At the end of round one, 15 groups were selected to receive training from a hospital’s senior dietician. She analyzed their recipes and, without changing the core ingredients, suggested tips to increase their nutritional value.

Thirteen dishes were showcased at a nutrition exhibition in Chikhaldara, a neighboring city. The event targeted more than 300 women and girls, as well as local colleges and schools and government officials from the healthcare sector.

The winner

The top recipe was the soybean rice pudding — a big hit with children because of its sweetness.

The event led to the program’s second phase, where World Vision staff and the local contest participants are teaching other women how to make one of the dishes.

“We go to other villages to impart this know-how and technique [making soy milk] that we have received,” says Sharda Raju Bachhale, from Badnapur.

They plan to teach all 13 recipes to all the villages.

This initiative is doing wonders for the children. In February 2011, the number of malnourished children in Badnapur and Solamoh was 42 and 14, respectively. A May 2012 survey now showed 10 cases in Badnapur and one in Solamoh.

“Women are actively taking interest in improving the health of their children by incorporating all that they have learned practically at home by cooking nutritious meals for their children,” Sushila says. “There were certain myths regarding eating habits that have been plucked out.”

Learn more

Read about World Vision’s work with food and agriculture to fight global hunger and malnutrition.

Learn about Beyond 5, a World Vision advocacy campaign to stop the preventable deaths of 19,000 children under age 5 each day.

Three ways you can help

Thank God for the work he is doing in the Melghat region, and pray for all the other communities around the world that haven’t yet learned how to cook nutritious meals for their children. Pray that God will bring people to these communities who can show them how to use local resources to improve the nutritional value of their children’s food.

Make a one-time donation to help provide life-saving food and care in communities that struggle with hunger. Your gift will help provide the emergency food children need to survive — vitamin-rich beans, maize, and other nutritious grains and vegetables. Plus, you’ll help feed them for years to come by giving their families vegetable seeds, farming tools, strong livestock, clean water, nutritional training, and other vital assistance.

Give monthly to World Vision’s Animal and Agriculture Fund. Your monthly donation will help families put food on the table by providing resources like animals, farming tools, drought-resistant seeds, training in the care and management of livestock and land, and business strategies on how to market goods.