A special thanks to the student collaborators from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Ryan Beemsterboer, Hsi Chen, Janice Cho, Christopher Coffin, David Evancho, Sarah Hamzeh, Kristen Hansen, Zachary Hoffman, Daniel Jick, John Lee, Taylor Littrel, Tamara Novikova, Meghan Quinn, Jonathan Salud, Eli Sidman, Carissa Smith, Ting Zhou.
How might we encourage kids to eat well at school?
Inside the cafeteria, adults want kids to eat as much as possible, so they hurry them to the tables. But when kids are rushed through the lunch line, they often take trays of food they don’t like. That food ends up in the trash.
We designed a serving system called Courses. Kids skip the lunch line and go straight to the tables. Lunchroom attendants serve the four food items in separate bowls, timed 5 minutes apart.
In our testing, kids ate more balanced meals. Rather than just sticking to their favorite one or two things, they ate a little more of all four items presented. Plus, the new protocol allowed lunchroom attendants to spend more time interacting with kids - their favorite part of the job.
We put GoPro headcams on kids to literally see lunch from their point of view, and took time-lapse photography of the entire space.
We shadowed and interviewed everyone from teachers and parents to administrators, kitchen staff and the janitor.
We even worked as Lunch Room Attendants in order to empathize with the needs of folks who play this all-important role.
Rather than picking at one or two items, kids ate a little more of all four dishes. Eating balanced meals - those which contain multiple food groups - is linked to healthful eating, particularly when staff have the liberty to select which items are offered first.
Reduced food waste
When kids are given the time to make a choice about each course, they tend to choose food they will eat. Early prototypes showed a significant reduction in food waste when students were served their meals in courses.
Serving dishes in courses takes advantage of kids' natural attention spans. Each time a new item comes out, anticipation turns to excitement as they see what it is, make their choices and dig in, shifting the focus from socializing back to eating.