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Cooking demonstrations

This question was posted the Management of wasting/acute malnutrition forum area and has 2 replies.

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Anonymous 10291

CARE Cameroun

Normal user

22 Nov 2017, 10:37

As part of the prevention of malnutrition, can I have a document outlining lessons learned from an experience in cooking demonstrations for implementing a cooking demonstration activity in a village.

Ambarka Youssoufane

KM Specialist

Normal user

22 Nov 2017, 12:36

Have a look at this previous related post on en-net:
You can also read this article from nutrition exchange:

Hope this can help.

Gudrun Stallkamp

Regional Nutrition Advisor/ East & Southern Africa

Normal user

22 Nov 2017, 13:50

Hello Mohamane,

sorry for a long email, I can't attach files here.
I'm pasting below observations that were a (sad) eye-opener for me and a few other colleagues some years ago in a country when we observed something that was labelled a cooking demo but that far from being that, and obviously then it was also nowhere near a so-called 'participatory cooking session'. To my knowledge, the organisation has pushed for a few years to use the latter term to highlight that there is need for cooking sessions to not just be demonstrations (meaning somebody demonstrates, others merely watch) to being real participatory cooking sessions (PCS), where EVERYBODY participates, learns by doing, where there are clear purposes, etc..

Other key points: involve men, very actively in the PCS. Ensure you have recipes examples for all different age groups/ types of your vulnerable population. Strive to convey how to experiment and try things out. This will help do away with rigid recipes but will require people more to internalise certain principles of preparing food. (I always find there is way too much emphasis on recipes but they are an important safety anchor for people who do not have the resources to experiment (something can go wrong and then is lost/ wasted) or who do not yet have gained sufficient confidence, or who have demanding family members who insist on very strictly prepared dishes. Obviously important to be in line with religious customs of how to prepare food, which can be an interesting thing in 'mixed' groups.

So, here the text outlining the observations come from the not so optimal example. I hope you (and maybe others) will be able to learn from this example.


Observations from an internal project review

Participatory cooking sessions (PCS)
There seem to be three occasions where PCS (could) take place:
a) PCS associated with the monthly growth monitoring sessions at community level
b) PCS during the PD/Hearth sessions
c) PCS associated with the Farmer Field Schools (FFS)

We observed a PCS, or rather a mass cooking demonstration, associated with the monthly growth monitoring, which highlighted the following noteworthy points:

1. Types of dishes. The main dish being prepared consisting of a diverse mash of green leaves (amaranthus, cassava), cabbage, tomatoes, local beans and a number of staples (sweet potatoes, cooking banana and white potatoes). It seems that the organisation contributed small fish and oil to the ingredients. The food was prepared in a large cooking pot by two women (model parents) who verbally explained to us that the ingredients would be cooked/ added into the pot in a certain order because not everything would require the same cooking time until done. A second ‘dish’, a liquid porridge consisting of sorghum, maize and soy bean was prepared in a smaller cooking pot. The liquid porridge would be given as a drink at the end (of the ‘feeding’).
2. Attendance of the event can be between 40-80 people, who are people from two villages that attend the growth monitoring at that site. This number is too large to run an effective PCS because of limited options to even see the cooking pots or preparation area and near to no option to engage in the process beyond menial ‘cut the food’ tasks (for a few).
3. Location. The food was prepared in a very small dark room nearby the place where people were gathered for the monthly growth monitoring. The room fit the two cooks and about 4-5 people from the evaluation team/community, there was no window. The location supposedly was the usual location for the food preparation; I queried this several times, especially because I suspected the rain on that day to maybe have influenced the choice of location yet the answer was always ‘yes in this room’. Hopefully this was a ‘lost in translation’ misunderstanding; unless there was a translation or reporting bias, the location was grossly inappropriate for a mass cooking demonstration.
4. Session facilitation and contribution. For the CHWs of the community, there is a rota system in place for who would prepare the food, who would organise the mothers, who would assist with the growth monitoring. The sessions are always conducted in the afternoon.
A technical field staff suggested exploring whether the sessions could be broken up and each CHW to run separate sessions with the households that they support (the CHW have inofficially divided up the overall area among themselves, rather than everybody covering the whole area). This would reduce group size and improve chances of people learning something at the PCS session. A PCS session with about 10 caregivers is felt to be manageable and effective; the current way with up to 80 people is not.
5. Food used in the session was locally available food, harvested nearby. Mothers /carers are supposed to contribute the food, they would bring some food to the event. Sometimes, the model parents/ CHWs contribute some food, especially if something is missing; ideally the FFS groups should contribute, too. Food contributed is not always fresh and some households struggle with their contribution.
6. Food consumption. The food is distributed to mothers/ kids after the growth monitoring and the mothers would then be told how to prepare such a dish. We could not observe this part because time ran out. The verbal explanations, communicated to a group of up to 80 people (which means shouting), are highly ineffective to effect behaviour change. Every child has a plate and a fork or spoon and the mothers are supposed to help their children eat the food. The dishes are being washed by the women, counted and stored for the next session.
7. Other practices that the event reinforces are hand washing techniques.
Additional points (not specifically related to the one observed PCS)
1. The organisation provides fish, soya, flour and oil for the PCS
2. One health facility staff voiced very strong concerns about the quality of the session. The health staff mentioned to have observed many sessions but these observations raised great doubts about the quality and the practices being promoted.
Points for consideration
1. Please note that some of the methodological critique points are found in other programmes, too, not only this one, yet this should not be an excuse for not addressing them….
2. The event was not a PCS nor even a cooking demonstration but rather a ‘mass feeding’ event: the number of attendants is too large to run an effective practical, engaging, interactive session. For example, with the reported maximum of up to 80 people attending the sessions, it is impossible to run any sensible PCS with two cooking pots or ensure that everybody understands/ hears/ experiences/ contributes to the process. The location (room) was too small to at least engage with a good proportion of the women (might be different if weather is better). Lastly, verbal explanations without everybody’s practical engagement or visual demonstration of how to prepare the dish are insufficient (inputs, time) to achieve a lasting improvement in food preparation skills.
3. That said, the session, or rather the food distributed to children subsequently, is likely to provide an incentive for families to attend the growth monitoring sessions. The organisation therefore has to be careful how to address this gap because simply stopping support to the intervention might have repercussions on the overall attendance. Also, the sessions form an integral part of the nutrition activities by the Government/ MOH at community level.

1. Improve the quality of the session so that they become an effective activity that supports the programme to reach its objectives. While it seems to be difficult to revamp the sessions linked to the GMP sessions because they are outside the organisation’s immediate ‘control’ and under the remit of the Government, the organisation should improve those sessions that they have more ‘control’ over, e.g. those that are held at the FFS or with the PDH groups.
For the GMP linked sessions, the programme team should discuss with the MOH if they together could find options to reduce the group size for a more effective learning experience, e.g. split up the households and one CHW is responsible for such a sub-group. This would require multiple sets of cooking equipment.
2. The Farmer Field Schools (FFS) approach provides a platform for experimenting with new practices with in a very low risk environment: if something does not go so well on the FFS plot, farmer themselves usually do not lose any of their own harvest/ seeds (except the time they invested) but it the organisation’s inputs that will be ‘wasted’. This is the low-risk environment, in which farmers may be willing to experiment with new practices because they would not suffer material/ input losses should they discover a certain technique not to yield as much as the original one. Similar to this broad concept, it would be interesting to (conceptualise and) pilot test whether the organisation could establish some Field Learning Kitchens where programme participants would be able to test and practice cooking techniques and ‘nutritious’ recipes in a low risk environment.
3. For the sessions associated with the monthly growth monitoring sessions, consider suggesting to the Gov’t to split groups into smaller sub-groups, perhaps increase the number of cooking pots. The sessions could be made interesting by running small competitions between the different groups (e.g., who cooked the most food diverse dish? Who prepared the dish with the best taste? Which dish is most suitable for a young child below 1 year/ between 1-2 years/ an adult? Which dish is rich in iron/ vitamin A/ protein/ energy?, etc. etc.). Would the organisation be in a position to influence the Gov’t to allow a small pilot or operations research to explore options for improving the monthly sessions?
4. Micronutrient powders (MNPs) provide another opportunity to also look at well-setup PCS. This is because MNPs need to be mixed with a meal, therefore there is great interest to promote diverse well-prepared meals alongside the promotion of MNPs.

Further considerations (straight from notes…).
1. PCSs need to be explained well, their purpose needs to be clear. So, part of a session is to clarify this
2. Provide an overview of reasons for why PCSs are useful/ what they're for and also clarify what they're NOT for, e.g. not a feeding event but a learning thing, and a fun thing with a bit of food, too, of course. In addition, they may be a 'magnet' for folks to come to some session/ event
3. Structure of a PCS: what's a useful way (or different useful alternative ways)
4. Who’s the audience? 'Normal' mother group members? Others from the community? Should any grannies etc. be there who are well known for their cooking skills? A colleague mentioned that in some countries there are women who'd who are the ones who cook for all weddings/ funerals, etc., those women might have a huge opinion leader status related to cooking in a community, and they should probably be part of the PCS so that we can pre-empt all arguments against 'new outsider-driven cooking techniques' but also hear from them as experts and take their insights on board
5. What kinds of input are required and who should chip in what? There seems to be a general understanding of the organisation and the communities splitting up the input supplies for PCS. Usually a divide between food versus cooking equipment or partial food/ partial equipment. I have heard about probably all main combinations (the organisation provides food/ provides equipment/ provides equipment and some food; community provide equipment/ provides food).
6. How can PCSs be structured and also take adult learning techniques on board?
a. What is an optimal (and range) group size?
b. What are the different tasks that can be shared and how do we ensure that these responsibilities are being rotated so that over a period of time everybody gets to do every job (I hear that when women can't contribute food they can contribute water/ fire wood but that should not mean that they won't be involved in cutting the food ingredients or that other women don't get to do water/firewood related tasks, etc.)
c. What use is there for IEC materials, should there be cards in the format of the counselling cards? (what content)
7. What are the technical bits that should be covered during a series of PCSs?
a. What are the real ‘messages’ of PCS?
b. Any 'technical' cooking/ food prep techniques (don't boil veggies for hours, etc. etc. etc. etc.) (not related to an actual recipe but can be practiced as part of cooking a recipe of course)
c. How can we instill/ convey a little bit of experimental practice into this? Many people report they actually have food but they simply do not know how to prepare it, and they don’t seem to dare try something out. Is there a way for them to ‘learn’ how to try something out? Is it going back to providing a low risk environment? This may need to be checked with the moms: if they’d like to do this, maybe they feel uncomfortable doing this for some reason?
d. Obviously use of local foods/ foods from the FFS, kitchen gardens, etc.
8. The advisors came up with some idea of having ‘Field Learning Kitchens’ as an equivalent to the Farmer Field Schools for agriculture. FFS are there as a safe learning space, provide an opportunity for people to learn new techniques, test this versus that technique, and all of that in a very very low risk/ risk free environment – if the harvest doesn’t work out, well then it were seeds provided by the organisation but no seed/ harvest loss for the household. For the more ‘experimental’ thought, see above, it might be interesting to setup some Field Learning Kitchens, where cooks can experiment, where colleagues could facilitate some cooking competitions between groups (How many food groups are in the dish? What nutrient-preserving cooking techniques did you apply? Whose dish has the best taste? Which dish is the best for kids? Which dish is the best for adults?)

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