By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Undernutrition, or malnutrition, among children remains as a serious problem in the country because it damages the health, physical growth, and brain development.

Data from United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Philippines shows that there are around 3.6 million Filipino children who are undernourished, with 4 million stunted in growth.

Juana Manahan Yupangco is on a one-woman quest to address the malnutrition among the youth by making new and creative recipes from local vegetables. 

Juana Manahan Yupangco is the brains behind Mesa Ni Misis. She comes up with recipes to turn local fruits and vegetables into dishes from different cuisines.

She runs Mesa Ni Misis which is a local food blog that shares plant-based recipes that Juana has thought of and tried making in her own kitchen.

“Mesa Ni Misis aims to encourage others to eat plant-based food by creating yummy dishes that people actually want to try, and by using locally-sourced ingredients so it won’t be expensive,” Juana said.

Engaging the Children in the Community

In order to encourage the youth to consume healthy food, Juana gets invited by different schools around the metro to conduct talks about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.

Mesa Ni Misis is partners with MovEd, a local program that aims to provide pre-school and childhood education to children in underserved communities.

“The youth are easy to convince because you can leave an impression on them because they can see what’s going on around them and they know that they can do something about it,” she said.

The challenge, according to Juana, is convincing the parents. That’s why when she holds seminars in schools or through Mesa Ni Misis, she engages both the children and their parents into converting to eating plant-based meals.

“It’s not easy because our parents and us grew up thinking and eating processed food,” Juana said. This is what makes progressing into a healthy lifestyle harder than it seems.

Juana advises that it’s important to go slowly in order to avoid any relapses in the process. The transition shouldn’t be done in the blink of an eye, but rather a gradual development that can soon become a regular practice.

“First, try cutting down on your meat consumption. Doesn’t have to be all at once; you can do it once a week or thrice a week then see the difference,” Juana said. 

When it comes to feeding kids, Juana said to go about it little by little so it will become a habit that they won’t mind in the long-run. 

“I first introduced vegetables to my kids by using purees, sauces, or by introducing them into their regular meals through small pieces here and there,” she said.

Once her kids got used to the taste of vegetables, Juana then shifted into serving them meals where the vegetables are visible and in chunks for her children to enjoy as they would any other dish.

How Mesa Ni Misis Started

Juana first got the idea of switching to plant-based food when she encountered health problems that were solved through consuming or applying plants in the affected areas.

“I had trouble with my C-section; tt wasn’t infected but it also wasn’t closing. So my yaya told me to take a bath with guava leaves in the water. My doctor couldn’t believe that it [the C-section] closed!” Juana said. 

Before she uploads the recipe to her food blog, Juana tries them out first in her own kitchen.

Another instance was when Juana got sick with dengue. She was working at a renewable energy corporation at the time where she had to visit the garbage dumps and check the sites. 

“My mom made me drink the water used to boil kamote tops. And then my platelets surprisingly rose,” Juana said.

From there, she saw the benefits of the country’s local produce and it got her thinking why these products aren’t a staple in many kitchens. This is where she got the idea of translating the local fruits and vegetables into international or even easy recipes that can easily be done in kitchens across the country.

“I get inspiration from different international cuisines. I think about how can I translate this dish locally, what ingredient can I use that tastes the same in the original recipe, and especially which one is cheaper is to use,” she said.

Juana also asks the public about what could be a good substitute in a dish by posting the original one on her instagram account and crowdsourcing for new ideas.

Debunking Common Healthy Eating Myths

One of the many myths that Juana wants to prove otherwise with Mesa Ni Misis is that eating healthy can be expensive.

Juana noticed that people are more knowledgeable about foreign produce like broccoli and kale rather than the vegetables that can already be found in local markets. Some would even argue that there is a high amount of protein can be found in broccoli and kale but Juana thinks more practically which is why she would rather use monggo, or mungbean, in her dishes.

“The meals or recipes in Mesa Ni Misis are actually below P250 and can feed around four people which is already a lot of people to feed at that amount,” she said. 

Ginataang langka (jackfruit in coconut milk) by Juana.

She added that purchasing more plant-based products for meals helps in cutting down the amount of money spent on buying meats.

“When I started buying vegetables, I noticed that food bill went down because it’s cheaper now when it’s just sayote, or kalabasa, and not chicken and sayote, or chicken and kalabasa,” Juana said. To get recipe ideas and for more information, check out https://mesanimisis.com/.