two medium-skinned boys wearing dark green school-uniform polo shirts sit on benches at a long, wood-paneled school cafeteria table. a brown cardboard tray sits in the middle of the table with multiple blue plastic bowls holding salad. the boy on the right points at a bowl of salad with a disgusted look on his face. the boy on the left leans all the way over the tabletop to see what the boy on the right is pointing at.
Designing a cafeteria experience where kids eat more and waste less
with Academy for Global Citizenship

Academy for Global Citizenship is a Chicago Public Charter School located on the underserved Southwest side of Chicago.


Chicago, IL

Topic Areas

Youth Development

Project Types

Programs & Services

For policymakers and administrators, school lunch is a major battleground. As designers, we knew we could bring something different to the conversation. We were challenged to redesign a cafeteria that saw tons of kids go without finishing their meals, despite serving the best food in the city.

With a grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation, and alongside a team of design students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we created a community-driven research and design project to reimagine the school food experience.

Project Outputs


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.


The program required some new tools, including trays that would fit the long cafeteria tables and bowls that were easy for kids to carry and would fit in the school’s commercial dishwasher. For our pilot, we constructed basic trays and sourced bowls from IKEA.

medium shot of a light-skinned woman with brown hair, pulled back into a bun, wearing a black dress and colorful beads, standing and gesturing with both hands as though she's in the middle of giving an impassioned speech. background is a display of red and black lights.

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

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel Academy for Global Citizenship

Client & Community Outcomes


During our five-day test with 50 students, kids told us how much they loved the new service. A new course every 5 minutes kept them interested in what was coming next, and the ability to take time to choose each dish made them happier with their choices overall.


To determine whether this effectively reduced food waste, we weighed and photographed each student’s leftovers before and after this intervention. We saw a 13% increase in vegetable consumption! They also ate more food overall and consumed more balanced meals with less fuss.

Special thanks to our incredible student design team at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Kristen Campbell Hansen, Hsi Chen, Janice Cho, David Evancho, Tamara Novikova Andreevna, Meghan Quinn and Eli Sidman.