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Indonesia: cooking competition aims to curb malnutrition

It's like "Master Chef" for the poor. Mothers-turned-chefs bring their creative ideas, very literally, to the table.

“Kids see food advertised on television and they think it looks better than the food they get at home,” said Yanti.

To get them eating at home, rather than at food stalls, Nenti says moms need to make meals eye-catching. The winning ticket is creativity, she explains.

Yet many mothers say they don’t have time to prepare healthy meals and prefer to eat out. Other children have parents who themselves are in poor health or under-nourished.

The Fresh program only started in Karawang in January, but mothers here say they recognize the importance of providing good nutrition to their children.

Nelly Gastiawati, 31, points to her 3-month-old son and gives a nod of approval. “He weighs 4 kilograms. That’s good.”

The challenge, says Rosenzweig is promoting food kids like that is also healthy. “We see a lot of fried foods and sweets. We want to make sure they’re not just promoting kids’ favorite things.”

When Kraft first started working in Indonesia it introduced a product called Biskuat, a fortified biscuit that sells for less than $0.10 a pack. The idea was to give malnourished kids cheap access to nutrition.

Now nutritionists say it’s more important to teach them healthy eating habits so they’ll have the tools to make good decisions later in life.

As Indonesia develops it faces the unique dilemma of having a society of poorly nourished people who are both too thin and too fat. It’s what Rosenzweig calls the “double burden” of malnutrition-driven obesity.

“When adults who experience poor nutrition early in life have access to a range of food — healthy and unhealthy — they are more at risk of becoming obese because of their bodies’ poor ability to process that food,” she said.

Some of the women in Karawang are delicate. Nenti is 5’2.’’ Many more are plump.

After the judges have tried and rated all the dishes, the cadres pass out the food to the children. Within minutes only empty platters and scattered crumbs are left on the table.

Hati Solastri, the chef of the winning dish, says changing mindsets takes time. Her cassava rolls stuffed with vegetables look like a colorful version of Hostess Ho-Ho cakes, but they are by far the healthiest option of the bunch.

For Gastiawati, however, the clean plates speak of success. “Everything is gone, so they must have liked it,” she said with a giggle.