I want kids in the cafeteria
to eat healthy and waste less.

Academy for Global Citizenship

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    Our research began by observing meals in the cafeteria, the structure of which hadn’t changed much since we were children.

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    We shadowed key staff members for entire shifts, understanding the constraints under which food is served in schools.

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    To gain empathy for the adults who make it all happen, our team of students volunteered as lunchroom attendants, cracking dozens of eggs at dawn and dishing out veggies at lunch.

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    We mounted Go-Pro cameras on 10 kids’ heads, observing the lunch period from a child's perspective.

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    For insights into traffic flow, we captured time-lapse videos of the cafeteria with ceiling-mounted cameras.

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    Through rigorous synthesis, we determined that the lunch line itself was the problem. Kids had only a couple of seconds to choose their food, they could barely see over the counter and they wasted five of their 20 minutes in line.

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    We worked with parents to brainstorm answers to the central question: “How might we increase the time for choosing food?” The hypothesis was that if kids could actually choose their lunch, they’d eat more and toss less.

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    Our most promising brainstorm concept was to serve the food in courses, directly at the tables. We prototyped this idea with one table of students and got their feedback.

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    Back at the studio, we choreographed the new food service across people and time, and created a map for the team to use in testing.

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    It was important to visualize the service in order to make sure it would be feasible, particularly given the constraint that we could not add additional lunchroom staff.

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    We tested the Courses concept with 50 kindergarteners for one week. By weighing and measuring the food waste, we were able to see the positive results of our intervention.

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This project helped us literally see the world from a child’s point of view.”

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Academy for Global Citizenship


In two rounds of testing, we prototyped a new food service model that had lunchroom attendants bringing food directly to children in an effort to reduce time wasted in line and give kids greater ability to choose their food. To determine whether this effectively reduced food waste, we weighed kids’ lunch-tray leftovers before and after implementation. We saw a 13% increase in vegetable consumption!

During our five-day test, kids told us how much they loved the new service. They ate more food overall and consumed more balanced meals with less fuss. Now proposals are underway for a larger pilot of this process, in partnership with Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Special thanks to our incredible SAIC student design team: Kristen Campbell Hansen, Hsi Chen, Janice Cho, David Evancho, Tamara Novikova Andreevna, Meghan Quinn and Eli Sidman.

Watch Sara Cantor Aye present this project at the Interaction conference: