Foods & Moves: An App Suite for Preschoolers and Their Caregivers
The Foods & Moves app suite is designed to help young children get the right kind of physical activity and increase their willingness to try new foods. The apps are based on research from different fields — such as early childhood, health, kinesiology, and behavior — and reflect the expertise of researchers.
Universities associated with the project include:
Colorado State University
University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
New Mexico State University
Published research about the development and impacts of Foods & Moves apps supports the efficacy of using mobile devices in this way as a platform to offer nutrition and physical activity education for young children, with their caregivers or preschool teachers.
Foods & Moves
Jungle Gym 1
Come and see what lives in the jungle with your two friends! When children move along with this interactive app, they perform specific movements demonstrated by the characters to build specific gross motor skills. Jungle Gym gives kids language to describe different movement patterns while allowing them to master the basics to progress to more advanced movements.
Jungle Gym 2
Ready to start an exciting adventure? Come join our two friends as they go exploring. Children perform fun movements, demonstrated by the characters, to overcome roadblocks and accomplish adventures. The interactive educates children on more advanced movement-based vocabulary while offering them the opportunity to practice new and familiar movements.
Tasting Party Express
Getting kids and monsters to try new foods can be tricky. Tasting Party Express puts your child in charge! Players feed various foods to different characters, placing the new food items on their plates and seeing their reactions.
This app is designed to teach children specific food tasting vocabulary and excite them to try new foods themselves.
Spin the wheel to select from four sets of themed activities (Moving like Food, Moving like Animals, Playing at the Park, or Going on a Picnic). Each wheel includes various physical movements that the player randomly selects by pulling the lever. Wiggle like spaghetti, jump like a frog, swing a baseball bat... how will the app ask YOU to move?
Download the apps at the Apple Store or Google Play store. You can find direct links to each app page here: FoodsAndMoves.org
The Foods and Moves apps are part of the HEROs Study (HEalthy EnviROnments Study), which investigated ways to impact young children’s health behaviors by encouraging preschoolers’ willingness to try new foods and motor performance, both in childcare and family settings.
Project co-investigator Laura Bellows describes the process as follows:
About physical activity
“Skipping, jumping, hopping and balancing are the building blocks of physical activity. As kids develop those skills, they become more confident in their movement, which leads to lifelong physical activity. There’s value in developing these skills, and they don’t develop naturally… it does take practice.”
—Laura Bellows, PhD
About trying new foods
“Take that step back and recognize what you’re asking a 3- or 4-year old to do… Young kids are blank slates and don’t have those experiences, so how can you build that familiarity by talking about the foods, colors, textures?… How does it taste?… In a non judgemental way, not 'you should do this,' but [to] build their curiosity: ‘take two bites.’”
—Laura Bellows, PhD
For more advice about using Foods & Moves with kids, see the “For Parents” tab in the app, or read more advice from the researchers here.
About our studio's experience in the creation process
This project is close to our hearts, and we on the Innovative Media, Research & Extension/Learning Games Lab team are elated that the apps are up on the Apple and Android stores for phones and tablets, and that research is showing many ways in which they are effective. We've heard from users that they find the apps beautiful and engaging, and there is a sense of pride among the team about our experience collaborating with researchers here and at other universities, as well as with artists, programmers, app testers and producers in our lab.
When talking about the involvement of the team in this process, Barbara Chamberlin, Director of the Learning Games Lab, said, "I am always pleased when our shop takes research-based information to make outreach tools to transform users in meaningful ways. Getting to collaborate with great people at other universities always makes those products stronger. The design process of turning that research into meaningful activities is at the heart of what I enjoy most in my job. It’s super fun doing user testing with this age group."
In addition, our team continues to compile findings from research about expanding user testing methods to this age group, and we have some important outcomes regarding representation of characters from a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion standpoint, including findings about how children respond to monster vs human characters.
Finally, the apps have been used and tested in several different programs and settings, including childcare settings, pre-schools, and homes. When played by children for 7 minutes they produced an average of 80% Moderate-to-Vigorous physical activity during play, equivalent or greater to physical activity from traditional physical education. Parents who used Jungle Gym 1 & Jungle Gym 2 with their children overwhelmingly (93%) felt that the apps were likely to increase physical activity, and the majority of parents (63%) felt that Tasting Party Express would help their children try new foods.
Reyes, L.I., Johnson, S.L., Chamberlin, B., Bellows, L.L. (In Press). Engaging preschoolers in food tasting and movement activities using mobile apps. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Reyes, L.I., Johnson, S.L., Chamberlin, B., Mena, N.Z., Bellows, L.L. (2022). Acceptability of digital apps developed to engage preschoolers in food tasting and physical activity in the home environment. Ann Behav Med, 56 (Suppl 1):S103.
Written by Amy Smith Muise, Program Manager, and Joel Gonzalez Parra, Student Assistant, Innovative Media, Research and Extension.
The HEROs Study was led by Dr. Laura Bellows, Associate Professor, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University (formerly of Colorado State University). © 2022, 2019 New Mexico State University Board of Regents. All rights reserved. NMSU is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. This project is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2015-68001-23240 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.