The Grocery Game!

By: Julie Ganeshan, Berlynn Bai, Nora Wu

The data says that the majority of college-age students eat less than one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetables each day.  A study at New York University found that the prevalence of obesity almost doubled from the time that the a class year arrives on campus and when it graduates. While the “Freshman 15” is a hyperbole, college students gain an average of 12 pounds between entry and graduation. This represents only a small fraction of the problem, as sometimes people can make poor nutrition choices, without being overweight. Poor nutrition can appear as too few fruits and veggies, or as too many calories coming from carbs. The NYU study showed that college students average eating fast-food 1 to 3 times a week – much more frequently than any other age group. These foods are usually very unhealthy.

So how come college nutrition is so poor?

There are many factors – college students are usually completely on their own for the first time, and can make whatever choices they want. Some students are on all-you-can-eat dining plans, which make it very easy to get junk food, and lots of it. Some students live in cook-for-yourself communities, but the constant time stresses from work mean that many don’t have the time to worry about nutritious diets.

Let’s look at the current system for cook-for-yourself students. How would you maintain a nutritious diet?

  1. Look up daily intake requirements
  2. (Optional) Find recipes for healthy foods you like
  3. Create a grocery list from these recipes – some recipes won’t intersect well, so you may need to pick different ones
  4. Buy groceries from the store
  5. Cook & Eat
  6. Log what you ate into a fitness app

Each of these steps is disjoint – you, the student, must bridge the gap between the information and tasks. That can be a lot of work!

Enter, The Grocery Game.

The Grocery Game is a mobile app designed to help college students cook themselves healthy, nutritious meals while having a fun social experience. It combines the different parts of the “nutritious diet” problem in one place. We, the developers, represent a grocery chain such as Stop & Shop.

The Grocery Game focuses on grocery shopping. The game is played in social circles – a player can be part of as many social circles as they wish. You’ll compete with and help your social circles.

Each week, we’ll release a set of “awards”. Then, members of each social circle will compete to see who gets the award. Your performance is based on how healthy your grocery cart is.

When using the app, you first choose ingredients to compose your cart. Each ingredient has a health score and a calorie score, and your running totals are shown. Once you’ve finished making your cart, our app will make AI-powered recommendations on healthy substitutes for items in your cart. Once you’ve finalized your cart, the app places an order via a grocery delivery service such as Peapod for all items in your cart. We save your cart to your history, to track your weekly caloric and nutrient intake. At the end of the week, the app awards the best cart in each social circle depending on the week’s challenges with a small coupon for their next purchase.

When you choose ingredients, you have a choice between ingredient mode, and recipe mode. In either mode, we keep a running tally of your health and calorie scores that you see while you shop. In ingredient mode, you will browse different ingredients that you can add to your cart. You can browse by category (ex: “Recommended”, “Produce”, “Frozen”), and in the list view swipe left on ingredients you don’t like and swipe right on ingredients you do (these are added to your cart). Tapping on any ingredient brings you to a summary page which summarizes the key nutrition facts of the ingredient and displays its health and calorie scores. You can go to a further details screen that shows all the nutrition facts. Recipe mode is almost identical, except the categories are different cuisines, and adding a recipe adds each of its component ingredients. The recommended section is populated with ingredients or recipes that we think will fit well into your lifestyle, given your past carts.

Some examples of awards we might give:

“Balanced on a Budget”: Cheapest cart with a high enough health score (say, above 90).

“Experimental Foodie”: Cart that has the most new, healthy ingredients that you have not bought in the past.

“Health-Nut”: Highest health score.

Once you’ve made a cart, you can share it with friends, view recipes that can be made from the items in that cart (either those you selected, or generated recipes if you shopped in ingredient mode), and of course view your nutrition intake.

By “gamifying” the grocery-shopping process, and incorporating health recommendations, tracking, recipes, and history into The Grocery Game, we hope to make it easy and enjoyable for college students to choose nutritious diets. By integrating with Peapod, we bridge the gap between what you plan and record, and what you actually do. By adding achievements and social circles, we hope to make grocery shopping fun, and to have friends help each other stay nutritious.

The Grocery Game was our second big idea. The first idea that we pursued was an outdoor activity game that fostered nutrition. However, we found it difficult to incorporate nutrition facts into gameplay, and thus came up with The Grocery Game. This idea was also inspired by first-hand experience in a cook-for-yourself dorm, where students have expressed sentiments like “I love cooking, but hate grocery shopping and planning” , and “taking care of food is really hard”.





Invisible Data – Data You Record, But Don’t Realize

In just one day, when sick at home, I generated the following digitized data. If all of this information were to be aggregated (much of it is), it could be used to track someone’s every move, and predict their future movements. It’s quite alarming how much information that is saved in digital forms, when we are not even trying to generate data.

Health Information

  1. Temperature Readings
  2. Medicine Dosages
  3. Calories / Dietary Intake
  4. An almost constant GPS location

Writing & Communication

  1. Assignments
  2. Text Messages
  3. Audio Clips / Video Clips
  4. Research Notebook


  1. The time, order, volume, precise location, artists, and song information that I listen to on Spotify. Additionally, how much each song is played for.
  2. A list of websites (browser history), what I did on those websites (cookies), what I looked at on those web sites (ads, Google/FB), Key strokes (Microsoft, Samsung), Mouse movements
  3. Video playlists
  4. The lengths and times that my phone is on


  1.  Bank account transaction info
  2. Credit card transaction info
  3. Tip amounts
  4. Itemized Receipts
  5. Referrals to purchase orders
  6. Times / Types of items purchased

Intentional Data – Data that is created with explicit intent to create data

  1. Homemade Movie animation frames.
If someone were to have all of this data – they would be able to do quite a lot with it – much of it bad. Even more interestingly, most of this data is generated as a side effect – whether from something simple like having fun, or something critical to life like buying grocery items.


Data Visualization is an Art

Anyone who enters the visitor center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab gets a few fun treats to take pictures with – a cardboard model of Curiosity, a collection of mission patches; but one of the most eye-catching, and in my opinion, interesting, installations is this large sculpture with flickering lights. After your first glance, you begin to notice the pattern – the outside strands have lights that moves up or down, and the inside cylinder has text that appears on it. This stunning mixture of art and data visualization, JPL’s light sculpture is designed to help non-technical visitors learn just how connected we are with space. Using live data, the sculpture cycles between different US satellites, displaying the name of the current satellite on the central piece, and illustrating the magnitude of the data being uplinked and downlinked from that satellite at the time on the outside. The more data, the more lights will turn on, with uplinks moving up the sculpture, and downlinks moving down.

While this might not communicate detailed technical data, it’s a very effective visualization tool, because it’s targeted towards non-technical guests and tourists. Often, space feels “far off” and removed from daily life – this sculpture intends to form a different impression with visitors to show that the work being done at NASA matters, and that Earth is actually communicating with satellites in space all the time. Although there is an informational stand next to the sculpture, the eye-catching scrolling text allows you to deduce what information is being conveyed without reading the sign.

If you want to see the sculpture in action, check out a video here: