Marta De Wulf
Mom of two teens; Nutritionist for 20 years; Entrepreneur and co-founder of Food N’ Me and ‘Smash Your Food’November 15, 2012
Marta, you are a techie, entrepreneur, nutritionist and a mom. And you have combined all of these traits into several fabulous games for kids. I first heard about ‘Smash Your Food’ when Heather Cabot, Yahoo! editor, demonstrated the game on NBC’s Today Show. Tell us about ‘Smash Your Food.’
‘Smash Your Food’ is our newest mobile game, now available on the iPhone and loaded with new features. There is also an iPad version that we released in April. These games are specially designed for children and their parents – to promote healthy eating and healthy living according to USDA guidelines. ‘Smash Your Food’ gives kids a totally unique experience to learn about nutrition the way they like to learn, playing games. They get to play with their food by smashing high-definition food in real-time, and they learn about the amounts of sugar, salt and fat in common foods. Most importantly, the personalization component allows them to learn about portion size and “what is a lot” and “what does it mean to me.”
Anita: And ‘Smash Your Food’ was a top winner in the First Lady’s Let’s Move! app contest. Congratulations. That is an accomplishment! I watched my daughter play the game, and it is really fascinating and very engaging for kids. And the best part is that since the smashing is done through clicking or touching the iPhone or iPad, it is not messy or noisy! What was your inspiration for your games?
Marta: I have worked as a nutritionist in private practice for 20 years, during which I developed and taught a nutrition curriculum to over 3,000 children. I have also coached and consulted with thousands of people and helped them to understand the role of food in their lives.
But as a mom, I am aware that each child learns differently, some through listening, some through reading and some through experiencing. I found that children are hungry to learn about nutrition but not through worksheets. They learn best when entertained and engaged. While watching these kids, I could see that not only do they want to learn about the foods they are eating, but they want to know how to eat healthfully. They need to learn in small digestible bites and in interesting ways.
One of my adult clients was obese and dependent on her parents at the age of 30. In one of her counseling sessions with me, she looked at me so sadly and said, “Why didn’t anyone teach me about nutrition in the 2nd grade when I started gaining weight, when I could have done something about it?”
This inspired me to develop the Food N’ Me games to teach kids and families about nutrition in a fun and entertaining way. I wanted to give kids “aha” moments that are magical and that translate into making healthy food choices every day.
Anita: That is so great. Kids really need that. Give us a couple of examples.
Marta: Well, if you ask kids “How many cubes of sugar are in one can of cola?” They don’t know. They will shout out “one million” or “one thousand” and then when you tell them there are eight, that doesn’t seem like a lot to them. But ‘Smash Your Food’ is personalized and adaptive. The player enters their age, gender and activity level, and the game actually shows them their sugar limit for a typical meal. They begin to understand that if they have a whole doughnut, that might be too much sugar, but a half doughnut fits into their allowance. The game also gives kids healthy tips and challenges them to make healthy changes. For instance, the child can pledge to not drink soda for a week, and then the game will e-mail mom to let her know about the pledge. The child is rewarded with “Gold Carrots” for changing their behavior and they receive the support of their parents.
Anita: I love it! I can see my husband getting really hooked on this game too.
Marta: Yes, it is designed for kids aged 6-12, but kids of all ages like it. And I have heard of this being played at colleges and workplaces. Ha ha! It is fun for all, sort of “now you can play with your food anywhere.”
“Peer pressure. My kids say, “So and so’s family eats it … why can’t we?”
Anita: So tell me about your kids. Are they healthy eaters?
Marta: I have a daughter who is 15 years old, and my son is in his first year of college. When my son was 12, I remember him saying, “I wish you were a computer programmer and not into nutrition.” But now he is proud of our work and loves cooking and chemistry. So he asks a lot of questions about emulsifiers and saturated fats. And I reply, “Aren’t you glad I’m a nutritionist?” Ha ha! And lately he has said, “I just want salad and fruit because I have been eating too much junk.” So I know he gets it!
And my daughter looks at fast food and sweets and turns away with a scrunched nose. She’s been there when we’ve smashed all the food and she’s seen what has come out. To be quite honest, this impacted her like so many kids, and they just don’t want to eat junk any more. Chips and salsa are her snack of choice. She’s a typical teen, though. I have to encourage her to eat more fruit and veggies!
“When a child is empowered to make healthy decisions because he or she understand the benefits of eating healthy. It is not Mom’s mandate but the child’s choice.”
Anita: Thanks, Marta. I am really excited about ‘Smash Your Food!’ And do you have more games in the works?
Marta: We have 20 games, apps and tools for parents planned, all of which will be available on all mobile platforms and on the web. Each is designed to teach simple nutrition concepts in a fun, personalized and adaptive way. We are in the final designs stages of Smash Your Food eBooks that will teach portion control through a healthy food treasure hunt in the grocery store. We also have practical games and apps planned that we will offer moms to help them find healthy foods appropriate for their children and a dashboard to keep it all organized!