One Way to Get Your Kid to Eat Veggies: Make It a Videogame
Of all the ways parents can get a stubborn child to eat what’s on her plate, bribery is among the most effective tools. And of all the bribes a child might respond to in 2015, 15 minutes on the iPad is pretty high. There’s nothing like dangling a shiny, glowing proverbial carrot in order to get kids to eat an actual carrot.
With this in mind, the wise folks—and frustrated parents—at Argentinian creative firm Wunderman designed Yumit, an interactive dinner tray that convinces kids to chow down by converting what they eat into virtual energy that can be used for upgrades and extras on mobile games.
The idea was born during a brainstorm session when Rodrigo Gorosterrazu, a creative technologist, was venting about his daughter not eating what he and his wife prepared. He was hardly alone in having that complaint. “Talking about Popeye and the benefits of spinach, or about eating carrots to improve your vision, no longer convinces this generation,” he says. The Wunderman team figured there had to be a way to use technology to make mealtime more engaging for kids without distracting them from the food.
Yumit attempts to strike that balance. A strip of multi-colored LEDs ring the Yumit plate, progressing from white to green as kids eat more of their meal. It’s a useful bit of visual feedback, and a gentle nudge to keep going. The lights and animations draw attention to the plate and, Wunderman hopes, toward the food as well. The plate rests on a scale that measures each bite in real time. As the peas and carrots disappear, the info is transmitted via Bluetooth to an app. “For example,” says Gorosterrazu. “[parents] will know how long it takes them to chew their food by measuring the time between bites, as well as how long their children take to eat and the total amount of food they consume.”
That’s handy information for parents, but it’s far from the coolest thing about the Yumit. Translating actual, physical energy into a virtual points system is a smart way to teach kids about why food (and healthy food, at that) is important. The gaming angle is an easy metaphor to grasp. The Wunderman team is developing games that will put this virtual energy to use (it hopes to provide an API to game developers when Yumit launches at a date TBD), and you can imagine how powerful this might be if it were integrated into popular games. You might get more snow peas in Plants vs. Zombies 2 by eating more snow peas at the table.
Wunderman considered reversing the idea, using punishment—locking kids out of a game if they don’t eat their veggies, for instance—instead of rewards. It turns out (surprise!) that kids responded much better to positive reinforcement. It’s a savvy move, because essentially what the Yumit its doing is realigning how children view mealtime. Little touches like lights that illuminate as a child eats more food provide direct, visual confirmation that they’re doing something positive. If eating veggies is fun, they’re more likely to do it again.
For now, Yumit remains in the prototyping phase. Wunderman has plans to join an incubator or even crowdfund the idea before long. Meanwhile, I have a million-dollar idea: Find a way to reward adults for cleaning their plates.
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