Foodio Kart

Foodio Kart is an Interactive racing game that helps middle schoolers to learn about how they can make healthy food choices to fuel them and make them thrive in life. The game was built using Scratch.

Victoria Palacin, Rubez Chong, Wataru Doita, Sarah Von Anh

Audience: 21 kids at a local school in Boston, age 8-10


Selected datasets: We combined data from two datasets in order to create a list of food items that could be converted into game elements:

  1. Nutrition data. Scores of protein and carbs are based on standardized numbers among the choices
  2. Health score comes from the data of EWG, which are scored by the levels of concerns about nutrition, ingredient and processing

From data to game dynamics:

Racers: In the game different characters have different skills (stamina, speed and handling). These skills are intentionally made differently to help kids understand that everyone’s food needs can be different.

  • Light Weight: Yoshi, Toad, Peach
  • Heavy Weight: Bowser, DK, Wario

Courses/Routes: In the game, there are 3 courses/routes that the player can choose to play. Each one has a different theme (field day, mind & mood and a big test day ). The courses are grouped into themes to show that different activities can require different nutritional needs and to kids an opportunity to learn food can affect both physical and mental activities.

  • Test today: technical
  • Field day: fast
  • Mood related: sugar crashes

Foods: In the game, food items serve as a fuel with different properties on the game. Table 1 shows the these effects. Players pick their favorite 3 snacks from 9 choices. The snacks a player picked appear on their course. Some of the principles behind the choice of these effects are:

  • Max speed: affected by proteins
  • Handling / focus: affected by fruit/veggies, healthy fats
  • Acceleration / stamina: affected by grains
  • Power ups: Vitamins and whole grains

Table 1: Food and their effects on game dynamics

Food Value: Protein Value: Carbohydrate Value: Health Score* Game Mechanic: Effect
Apple 1 4 5 Boost speed 4 sec
Banana 1 5 5 Boost speed 5 sec
Orange 1 3 5 Make invisible / force field so can pass through cookie
Mixed Nuts 5 2 4 Make smaller so more agile 4 sec
String cheese 5 1 3 Turbo boost to end
Gogurt 2 2 4 Make slower 3 sec
Chocolate Chip Cookie 1 3 2 Boost speed 2 sec sleep 3 sec
Potato Chips 3 4 3 Make bigger 5 sec
Crackers 2 2 3 NOTHING
Bagel, plain 3 4 4 Boost speed a little but for 10 sec

*Median score in the category here:

Impact and Evaluation of Data Game

The key goal of Foodio Kart was to educate middle-schoolers on nutritional health and the impacts of different foods on their body. Nutritional data can seem dry and boring; Kids have also heard the same song sung many times. Thus, we wanted to find a new spin on nutritional data by building an interactive game to get kids to “experience” the tangible impacts of different foods on their body via their Mario Kart characters.

Semi-structured questionnaires:

Questions to audience pre-story:

  • Have you ever played Mario Kart?
    • What do you like about it?
  • What is your favorite game?
  • Explain why are we here today and our goals
    • Introduce ourselves
    • Raise your hand if you have questions

Questions to audience post-story:

  • How did you like the game?
    • Was it easy and fun?
  • What was this game about?
    • What do you conclude from this game?
  • What did you like from the game?
  • What would like to change in this game?
    • What other types of features you imagine on this game?

How the game works: Kids take on Mario Kart characters and aim to complete a race course. However, the course is littered with all kinds of treats i.e. cookies, chips, apples, oranges, bagels, string cheese. Kids are instructed to eat well as it is their big race day! As they race through the track and pick up these foods, they experience the immediate impacts of the food i.e. cookie – an initial sugar rush and speed boost followed by an energy crash where the characters are forced to take naps, as the other racers speed by. This is an example of how we tried to incorporate tangible impacts of food (via the food nutrition data we analysed) into the game.

Context for testing: We built the Foodio Kart game in Scratch and brought it for testing at East Somerville Middle School. We had an hour with 21 third-graders where they played the game and the session culminated with a conversation about nutritional health using their takeaways from the game. We also used this time for gathering their feedback on the game i.e. things they liked/didn’t liked/would like to see in the future.


Things that went well: 
The kids were really excited about the game and understood the importance of eating well and the impacts of different kinds of food on their bodies. The game provided strong context for diving into a meaningful conversation on food and health. We spent the last 20 mins discussing what it means to eat well and gathering feedback on the game.

Things that didn’t go as well:
We overlooked the logistical challenges that come with working with kids in a school. Firstly, we couldn’t get access to the school’s private wifi and secondly, we didn’t expect each kid to have their own chromebooks (!) We had intended to set up 2 play-stations with 4 kids playing at any one time, as the game was designed as a 2-player experience. This made close observation harder than expected – we were constantly shuttling between the 21 kids.

Further, the game was glitchy and buggy as all 21 kids were playing the game at once. This, in part, took away from the experience of the game. However, all of the kids managed to play the game once and learned about the impacts of different snacks on their “performance.”

Things we would’ve wanted to change:
Whilst we had a meaningful conversation with the kids on nutritional health, it would’ve been better if we could’ve gone beyond the general nutritional discourse on healthy vs. unhealthy food to a more nuanced breakdown of the kinds of nutrition in food, their impacts on health, and a hierarchy of foods – i.e. not all foods are equal – banana vs. apple; though both fruits, affects the body in different ways. We could’ve backed this up with the nutritional data we analysed.

Further, our conversation with the kids helped us realise that it would’ve been helpful to include nutritional/food data as pop-ups in the game to further explain the impacts of food on their character i.e. why the sugar rush and energy crash after eating the cookie.

Feedback and Interview with Kids:

We opened the conversations by getting the kids to tell us their likes/dislikes of the game. To our surprise, the kids were honest and gave us valuable feedback. Many found the graphics and the characters too small. Some expressed that it was different to navigate through the course and some buttons didn’t work for the kids. Some also shared that it would’ve been more impactful if the game was designed from the 1st person viewing angle rather than the 3rd. Finally, the soundtrack was a big hit amongst the kids!

Fueling Frenzy: Impact

Fueling Frenzy is a specialized card deck designed for use in a suite of games related to meal planning and nutrition on campus. After hearing about some of the politics around meal plans and food insecurity for undergraduates on campus, we started to think about how reliant students might be on free food and how much of that free food isn’t particularly healthy. Based on a combination of the USDA nutritional database, campus free food listservs, and campus dining hall menus, we identified a set of foods commonly found on campus (both for free and at dining halls), and assessed their healthiness based on different metrics. We found that many of the most frequently available foods on campus are not particularly healthy, which made us want to encourage healthy eating and thoughtfulness around meals through a set of games. One is a game of chance meant to simulate unthoughtful eating habits and one is a strategy game meant to encourage a more thoughtful approach to nutrition on campus.

Our game is meant as an orientation activity for incoming college freshmen (“prefrosh” at MIT). In general, these are young people who previously lived at home where their eating habits were externally determined and who rarely prepared their own meals. They have fast metabolisms, but only about a quarter of them will join sports teams. When combined, these factors suggest that the average freshman at MIT has probably not given much thought to his or her eating habits and might not see a need to do so. Prefrosh are also probably unprepared for the diversity of foods available on campus, and the sheer volume of free foods especially.  As such, we want to intervene at the first possible moment–during orientation–to encourage healthy eating habits, play out MIT scenarios that might affect one’s nutrition, and ultimately make the connection between eating healthy foods and high cognitive functioning.

Because of finals-related constraints, we were not able to pilot with college freshmen. Instead, we ran two pilot games with former and future orientation leaders in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning. This audience is useful to work out the kinks of facilitation, and were also all college freshman at one point in time. After each pilot, we conducted focus groups with the players to assess strengths and weaknesses of the games (this was in addition to the semi-structured conversations that happened at the mid- and end-points of each game).

Questions included:

  • How clear were the game’s goals?
  • How well did you think the importance of healthy eating was conveyed to students? How would you sharpen this message?
  • How helpful did you find the mid and end facilitated discussions? Were there directions you’d like to take these conversations that weren’t explored this time?
  • To what extent did you think the design of the game aided in its purpose? DId you think the “takeaway card” would be appealing/useful to your students?
  • How empathetic do you think the game was, in terms of meeting students where they’re at as prefrosh and orienting them towards MIT dining? Are there potential areas of stigma that we should be aware of?

Feedback was largely positive. Players universally agreed that the game was “actually fun” and that the data associated with the cards yielded some surprising insights. For example, one player exclaimed “I always thought dumplings were a meal in themselves! …seeing them categorized as a starch, and not even that healthy of one… that will stick with me.” In terms of our logic model, the realizations about the relative nutrition of common foods available at MIT achieved the goal of providing helpful heuristics for judging the nutritional qualities of familiar foods. Players also agreed that the need in both games to recognize “balanced meals” was a good exercise; one player remarked that “the idea of pairing free foods with healthy ones should be obvious, except it’s really not!” Comments like this suggest that the goal of encouraging the enhancement of free foods with healthy additions, while recognizing that free food is enticing, was met through the second game.

The conversations were well received, especially for the first game that is meant to be played at a faster pace. A player in the second pilot explained “the discussions really helped to reframe the game– I tend to get caught up with winning, so the prompts were a necessary redirection.” Most of the constructive feedback concerned design and game logistics. For example, players found the different colors of the suits to be helpful, but thought that junk food should have been a “junky” color “like neon or black” to really distinguish their lack of utility as compared to the other suits. Another helpful suggestion was directed at the “takeaway” cards, that serve as a takeaway recipe card for game participants. While the aesthetics of these cards was appreciated, players raised the helpful point that the recipes should be pitched to what freshman can reasonably make in a dorm kitchen; instead of “how to cook fish,” toaster oven and microwave recipes would be more immediately useful to the audience.

The spreadsheet with our logic model with our short-term goals, and questions for freshman and orientation leaders can be found here.

The Future of Food-lanta

Team: Rubez Chong, Sarah Von Ahn, Ayush Chakravarty

The data say that 21% of Atlantans live in low-income neighborhoods with limited access to fresh food. We want to tell this story because these challenges are not receiving enough attention in major Southern urban areas, where the issue is particularly acute. For this project, we used the USDA Food Research Atlas, and restricted to our census tracts of interest (everything within Fulton County).

We take on the role of a small group of food security advocates within the Atlanta Mayor’s office — we would have recently worked on initiatives to expand food access to underserved areas. For this particular activity, though, our goal is to get more people within the Mayor’s staff (public health experts, staff working on low-income issues, chamber of commerce liaisons) to pay attention to this particular challenge and ultimately, to move towards creating a Mayor’s Office of Food Access similar to those that already exist in a few major cities across America. As such, the context of this activity is a workshop at an annual conference amongst executives within Atlanta’s Mayor’s Office.

The activity goes as follows: in our class of 15, we break people out into groups proportional to the county breakouts by type of food access (along the dimensions of access and income). To access each of their treats, Groups A, B, C, and D all have to accomplish different tasks (For example, group A, the high-income/high-access group just gets their treat at the door, but group D, the low-income, low-access group must do 15 jumping jacks and then walk up to the fourth floor for their treat).

We hope this game is effective on a few lines: for one, it is meant to generate empathy with the daily challenges of the individual, but also, when everyone comes back, characterize the sheer size of the problem: 3 of 15 people coming back panting when another 6 barely had to leave the room helps plot the data across an axis of humans. Finally, we hope that the embodiment will both spark discussion and encourage action (in this case by working to launch a food office).

Fuel for School

Group members: Lilian Eix, Amy Vogel, Shikun Zhu

The data say that each and every food is different according to its nutritional makeup. We want to tell this story because each nutrient contributes to one’s well-being in a different way; though we often think of making food choices based on budgeting calories, a different (and perhaps healthier) attitude to instill in kids is to think of food as fuel to help them accelerate in their daily activities. To do so, we used data from the USDA Food Composition Database.

Our audience is middle schoolers, who are typically thinking about nutrition and body image seriously for the first time, as they are going through puberty. When learning about nutrition, kids are often taught about roughly how many calories they should eat per day, about balancing the different food groups, that certain foods are “unhealthy”/”bad,” and that other foods are “healthy”/”good.”

Our goals are to create a game that would teach kids about nutrition in a more positive light and to emphasize the importance of a healthy breakfast. In our game, while some foods are certainly more “fuel efficient” than others, more importantly, different types of “fuel” will help the character with different types of activities. The player (a middle school student) can select what their character will eat for breakfast, and then see how the character performs throughout a typical school day.

We didn’t want kids to get in the habit of obsessing over numbers, so we intentionally hid the nutrition facts from the game screen (though in a final version we would also supply the user with the option to learn more about the nutrition information if they wanted to). Instead, the nutrition facts are indirectly communicated through the user’s strength, energy, and focus levels. Through formulas based on nutritional science, we used the protein, carbohydrates, and sugar content from our selected foods to determine how much strength, energy, and focus each food would contribute to the character. After breakfast, the character bikes to school, attends class, goes to P.E., and then takes a test. In each of those four activities, their strength, energy, and focus levels determine how well they will do. At the end of the game, the user has the opportunity to play again, which is crucial, because repetition is how they will learn the effect of different food choices.

Link to game:

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”.