Last year, the Let’s Move campaign sponsored Apps for Healthy Kids, a contest that challenged techies to build apps that would help fight childhood obesity. Many of the apps that won in various categories in that contest are now online or available for handheld devices.
I checked out the first place winner, Pick Chow, a tool that allows kids to drag various whole foods onto a plate to build a meal. After each food is added, the tool adds up the amount of protein, carbs, fat, fiber, sugar, saturated fat, and sodium in the meal. “Add it Up” meters let kids know if they’ve gone past a healthy limit in any one of those areas or if they don’t have enough if any of those areas. As the meal is built, it also receives stars, and I suppose the goal is to make each meal a five-star meal, but that’s not clear on the site.
When a child creates a healthy meal, the meal can be emailed to parents with a menu, shopping list, recipes, and coupons. Kids create healthy meals they like and parents have an easy way to know which healthy foods their kids really want to eat – this is a very helpful feature of the app.
One problem I see with it, though, is if kids try to create and eat a five star meal for every meal, they could end up eating way too much food. Take this breakfast I created in Pick Chow for example. I added oatmeal with raisins and walnuts, a banana, and a glass of milk. It has whole grains, fruit, protein, and dairy. It’s only considered a one-star meal. I couldn’t find a definition of what would be considered a five-star meal on the site, and no matter what I added to the breakfast – meat, vegetables, chickpeas – I couldn’t get it past a two-star meal. The app allows you to drag and drop a dessert onto the plate, too, but only if you’ve created a five-star meal.
I think the star system part of the app is useless. The meter system is more helpful, though. If parents sit down with their children and play around with dragging and dropping foods onto the plate, it can be useful in getting kids to understand that a variety of whole foods are needed daily for a healthy diet.
Pick Chow isn’t a perfect app. The star system is flawed and the inclusion of dairy as a requirement is unnecessary. (But, to be fair to the creators, ZisBoomBah, the apps in the Apps for Healthy Kids contest had to use the USDA nutrition data that includes dairy.) It can be a useful, tool, though in educating children about whole foods and how different foods provide different important nutrients.