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She is the head chef of the beggars? banquet

Reshma Arote and Laxmi Murugeshan are creating cheap, novel recipes to improve the lives of malnourished children. Aditya Ghosh reports.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2006 03:02 IST

Rs 40 is all you need to change the lives of 12 kids suffering from severe malnutrition.

Unbelievable, but true. For over a year now, Reshma Arote and Laxmi Murugeshan have been doing just that at Sion Hospital’s Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre at Dharavi. Their mission: to eradicate Grades 2, 3 and 4 malnutrition.

Grade 1 ranges from a birth weight of 2.75 kg to a 5-year-old weight of 15 kg. Grade 2 ranges from a birth weight of 2.5 kg to to 5-year-old weight of 13 kg. Grade 3 ranges from birth weight of 2 to 5-year-old weight of 11 kg. Grade 4 goes from 1.5 kg at birth to 9 kg at 5 years of age. A normal male child is 2.7 to 3.4 kg at birth and 20 kg at five years.

Teaching mothers to prepare nutritious and tasty meals with inexpensive ingredients was the solution the duo devised to tackle grades 2 and 3, which are rampant in the area. They chose awareness as their weapon because they knew it was not always poverty but mothers’ lack of knowledge about food that causes malnutrition.

They were allotted a budget of Rs 40 per day to develop recipes which are nutritious and sufficient for 12 to 15 children. They came up with innovative foods like carrot-and-turnip parathas prepared with soybean, whole wheat and gram flour.

With Rs 40, they could prepare 24 parathas, each worth 200 calories. “All essential vitamins are there due to carrot, turnip leaves and turnips; soybean is the source of protein and the oil has just the right amount of fat needed to fry the stuffing and the paratha itself,” said Dr Rujuta Hadaye, associate professor at Sion Hospital’s Preventive and Social Medicine Department (PSMD) which runs the centre.

The kitchen run by Arote and Murugeshan innovates constantly, coming up with preparations like soybean cutlets, made of mashed soybean, carrots, potatoes and rawa, to be had with peanut chutney. Or bhel with sprouted pulses and gram, poha with peanuts, potato and cauliflower — all complete meals.

Murugeshan, a resident of Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, she has been working at the kitchen for four years.

"I started off as a cook because my husband had no steady income," she said.

Public health nurse Arote joined her in January, which was the trigger for the duo to start thinking out of the box.

“Arote helped me to think innovatively about food,” said Murugeshan. But they knew they wouldn’t achieve much without institutional support, and that came from the PSMD.

The battle against malnutrition made inroads through soybean laddoos made with jaggery and gram, lentil-spinach khichdi and other recipes taught to mothers. “Now my son does not fall ill every now and then,” said Meena, mother of Saroj (5), who weighs a mere 10 kg.

“We acquired some recipe books and started improvising with expenses, taste and nutrition. We are constantly thinking about it and trying to improvise recipes to help mothers cook better food with the same ingredients,” said Arote.

“Even the middle-class should learn some of these recipes,” recommended PSMD head Daksha Pandit. Added Sion Hospital Dean ME Yeolekar: “Merely feeding the children would never have been sufficient. Arote and Murugeshan are providing a service that the community is greatly benefiting from.”

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First Published: Dec 27, 2006 03:02 IST