Abstract Background Child and infant malnourishment is a significant and growing problem in the developing world. Malnourished children are at high risk for negative health outcomes over their lifespans. Philani, a paraprofessional home visiting program, was developed to improve childhood nourishment. The objective of this study is to evaluate whether the Philani program can rehabilitate malnourished children in a timely manner. Methods Mentor Mothers were trained to conduct home visits. Mentor Mothers went from house to house in assigned neighborhoods, weighed children age 5 and younger, and recruited mother-child dyads where there was an underweight child. Participating dyads were assigned in a 2:1 random sequence to the Philani intervention condition (n = 536) or a control condition (n = 252). Mentor Mothers visited dyads in the intervention condition for one year, supporting mothers' problem-solving around nutrition. All children were weighed by Mentor Mothers at baseline and three, six, nine and twelve month follow-ups. Results By three months, children in the intervention condition were five times more likely to rehabilitate (reach a healthy weight for their ages) than children in the control condition. Throughout the course of the study, 43% (n = 233 of 536) of children in the intervention condition were rehabilitated while 31% (n = 78 of 252) of children in the control condition were rehabilitated. Conclusions Paraprofessional Mentor Mothers are an effective strategy for delivering home visiting programs by providing the knowledge and support necessary to change the behavior of families at risk.