Posted October 26, 2015
  • An elementary school student testing the plate Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Cooking instruction with Rebel Ventures Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • Students from Penn and Comegys Elementary School “design” the portions together Credit: Jordan Cassway
  • A variety of food served on the SnackGarden plates Credit: Jordan Cassway

Designing Healthy Eating Experiences

“This is awesome!” was the resounding reaction when the first five manufactured plate samples from the Designing Healthy Eating Experiences design team were placed on the tables at Comegys Elementary School in West Philadelphia. With diverse, vibrant healthy choices arranged in individual compartments on a leaf, the plates were immediately surrounded by kids’ attention and praise. All dishes were cooked by their peer students as part of the school’s cooking program. The snack session, held on the afternoon of October 19, 2015, was nothing new, as the school has held this program several times every week, except that this time, meals were served on leaf-shaped plates instead of the traditional paper plates they typically used, which made the food look more engaging and attractive. The plates were designed by students of the Integrated Product Design (IPD) program at the University of Pennsylvania, and through a Social Impact grant through PennDesign and PennPraxis, they were working with Rebel Ventures to test the plates with local elementary school students.

This Monday’s dish selection included: chard slaw, ranch carrots, cooked mixed vegetables, yogurt, and juice. Three cooking teams spent an hour preparing and cooking for their peers to have a healthy, nutritional snack at the end of the day. Practicing weekly, the tiny chefs had gained exceptional skills in cooking and had learned the skills of making delicious and healthy foods. The collaboration of the Penn team provided a great complement to the progress of the Rebel Ventures program by designing and prototyping these special plates.

The many compartments of the plates, not only were designed to mimic the shape of leaf, but also encouraged kids to select multiple dishes rather than single, and with appropriate portions. The children were able to place, mix, and enjoy the food in any manner they wished. The kids thoroughly enjoyed and learned from the testing with the five plate sample, proving the design intention. Thankfully, a thousand identical injection-molded plates, with more colors, are currently being manufactured and will be arriving at the beginning of November. These Comegys Elementary students will be the first group to enjoying them.

In addition to designing and testing the plates, the Penn IPD team is working together with a group of neighborhood high school students, through Rebel Ventures, on creating a brand and package for the plate. The final plate and accompanying branding scheme will achieve the project goal of working with a younger generation of community members to promote healthy eating in the community.