Today more deaths are linked to obesity and weight gain than famine and malnutrition, especially with children a concerning increase in global childhood obesity has developed. Currently, many programs have been implemented in the Netherlands to address childhood obesity, however, few go beyond awareness and involve a physical experience. To address this gap this project researched and designed a product experience to support families to develop a healthier relationship with food. The primary aim of the research was to gain a better understanding of how food, play, and parent-child interactions influence eating habits and behaviours in families, especially with regard to toddlers and younger children. Through this research a design was created for the year 2025 and tested with families.
In the first phases of this project, research was conducted through a literature review and qualitative studies with domain experts as well as parents with children between the ages of 1 and 4. These research studies focused on gaining a deeper understanding of specific values, beliefs, and parental experiences within a family in order to better understand the conflicts that exist in the home food context. The insights gained through these studies were gathered and categorized based on how they contribute to what family interactions around food moments will look like in the year 2025. For example, one insight is that parents struggle to set clear boundaries; they often sacrifice their own well-being in order to be more engaged in their children’s lives. Most families are child-centred, where the children hold priority over their parent’s time, energy, and attention. When reviewing these categories, the need for flexibility was a surprising yet important concept.
Once a clear formulation of the home food context was established a series of design interventions were developed and tested. Interventions were tested by myself as well as other families in order to identify and establish which designs positively influence our relationship with food. The design interventions were inspired by the themes of rebellious play, mindful eating, and the promotion of playful exploration, guided independence, trusted relationships, and family harmony.
After testing of prototypes, a final concept was developed and tested by families with children. The final concept called Happi Hanily is a family food play experience that facilitates the reflection of family food values, supports mindful eating, and creates an atmosphere that fosters harmony among family members—all of which promote the development of healthy eating behaviour for the family over time. The design has three elements, the digital Food Finder which is an online recipe platform, the Spill Supporters which are customized napkins, and the Wackey Wavey Wheel of food which is the central serving and eating dish.
The final concept was tested with three families using the qualitative methods of observation, questionnaires, and interviews. During testing it was found that the design facilitated a harmonious dinner experience with the qualities of playful exploration, guided independence, and trusted relationships being enhanced. Due to the timeframe of the project it was difficult to measure whether families were able to develop a healthier relationship with food. However, based on parental feedback it appears that children are more engaged while eating with the Happi Hanily and that this product is something they would adopt as a ritual. The design facilitates a more relaxed and stress-free dining experience which is important when introducing new food to children and when helping them to develop a healthier relationship with food.