Carrots or Cake? Getting Kids to Make the Right Choices Through Apps

Go Go Mongo!

Go Go Mongo!

This is a guest blog post by Ahmed Siddiqui.

Calories, sodium, protein, fat, are all parts of a nutrition label.  Although these bits of information are important to understand, very few people actually know how to use these figures to create positive changes in their diet.  This is why there are so many programs available like Weight Watchers telling people exactly what to eat.

However, nobody is really touching on the core issues with food today.  Processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial ingredients found in candies, cookies, and sodas are the real causes of obesity in this country. Today’s new parents are of the Oreo generation, growing up thinking that all these processed foods were actually good for them, and passing these bad habits on to their kids.

If we are to start tackling the obesity epidemic in the U.S., children need to build good eating habits early on, and food needs to be explained simply so they can carry on these habits when they are adults.

The Fooducate food grading system is incredibly simple.  By just scanning a barcode on food, Fooducate can give a letter grade to it, and then goes on to provide a healthier alternative.  It completely takes the guesswork out of learning to eat healthy.

Adults like simplicity.  But kids like even more simplicity.  Although a grade scale makes sense to older kids, this usually is too late to form good eating habits.  Good eating habits need to start as early as 2 years old, but things need to be simplified even more.  Food needs to be categorized as either good or bad.  Carrots good…  Cake bad…  This is very simple and highly effective, but instead of just saying it, why not demonstrate it.

My game, Go Go Mongo! available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, is designed for children 2-4 years old and does exactly this.  By using fun game elements and funny animations, kids quickly understand what they should or should not eat.  In the game, children use the tilt controls to have a chubby orange monster, Mongo, run around and catch food falling from the sky.  When Mongo eats a healthy fruit or vegetable, Mongo becomes happy.  When Mongo eats a cake, he turns purple and looks sick.  After watching this reaction a few times, children get what makes Mongo sick could make them sick too.

When presented with a carrot or a cake, the natural human instinct is to go for the cake because it tastes so good!  However, if we help kids understand the effects of bad eating through simple games with a good or bad food response, I feel we can help to reverse childhood obesity.

Nutrition education is great, but for toddlers and kids learning though games is a must and can lead them down the right path. Please join me in fighting the obesity epidemic by simplifying food to something that adults and children can easily understand.

Guest post written by Ahmed Siddiqui, founder of Go Go Mongo! (www.gogomongo.com) a mobile game that inspires children to eat healthier.  Go Go Mongo! can be downloaded from the Apple iTunes App Store.  He can be contacted through Twitter: @siddiquiahmed

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  • Media and Food Savvy Parent

    Wow. What a horrible marking effort for what might be a mildly amusing game.

    You lose all credibly in your first paragraph. And go downhill from there.

    You’ve obviously never been to a Weight Watchers meeting, as the entire program is based on teaching members to read food labels and look for the macronutrients of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. And the program never tells you what to eat or what not to eat. (So that’s entirely the opposite of your first paragraph.) I’m not a big fan of the US’s $60 billion diet industry, but that’s no reason to just make up crap and villainize other businesses just to sell your app.

    I do agree that kids need to start with healthy eating habits early on, and that Fooducate has been a great tool for many adults to start making changes, so we can agree on something.

    But saying that if a kid is old enough to understand a grading system it is “too late” to form healthy eating habits is ridiculous, and just using fear to market to parents. Sure, it’s great to start young. But I started improving my eating and exercise when I was 24 and I still managed to make them in to life-long habits (so far anyway, and it’s been about 10 years). Parents deal with enough criticism from the media everywhere they go on every parenting topic out there. They don’t need more guilt and pressure about food. If they are reading the Fooducate blog, they are already working to make healthy changes for their family, and modeling healthy living is the best way to teach kids.

    And NO ONE needs to learn to label foods “good” or “bad.” There are healthy foods and there are indulgences. There are daily foods, or “growing foods” (if you want to speak at a kids level) and there are “sometimes foods” or treats. But teaching “good” and “bad” with food is only going to heap more guilt on food choices, and guilt is not a feeling we need to associate with any food to have a healthy, lifelong relationship with food.
    (For those being very detail oriented, I might agree that people with food allergies might have good/bad labels for their food. Peanuts if you have an allergy, gluten if you have Celiac disease, but that is a whole different ball game.)

    One of the reasons we have an obesity epidemic in this society is because industry and media have helped create such an unhealthy way of thinking about food. While your app might be working to fight that, your words to sell that app are more of the same crap that is causing the problem. Good luck selling your game, but please rethink your marketing.

    • Frank

      Sadly, this comment displays a general lack of intelligence and a desire to blame the world. Don’t blame “industry” and “media” for causing obesity. No one is forces people to eat and therefore it is a choice for most. Unfortunately, your point about “NO ONE needs to learn to label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’” is categorically untrue. If a person is actually obese and wants to change, the time for indulgences is gone. Actionable items are important. Now, take a step back and realize that if you could change behavior at an earlier age, you could cause people to live healthier lives, feel more confident, and save massive amounts of money in healthcare costs. But yes, you’re clearly right, we wouldn’t want them to associate guilt with cake. Because it is truly important that everyone love cake. Great parenting. You are a poster child for birth control.

  • Goodcake

    Yes, let’s shame children about food as early as possible! Cake isn’t inherently “bad. ” Give me a break. Also, When this Site talks about how being sedentary kills everyone, it’s interesting to see this article about getting 2 year olds to play video games.

  • Catherine

    I thought we were trying not to make food a moral issue? Trust me, you tell toddlers that cake is inherently ‘bad’ then they will quickly make the connection that they are ‘bad’ if they ever eat it. Is that really what we want? I won’t be taking advice from someone pushing their own video game any time soon.

  • James Cooper

    This article shills for a 99-cent iPhone app of questionable value. It looks pretty patronizing to me.

  • Ahmed

    Great comments! I primarily wrote this article based off of things I’ve learned from other parents using this app. The app has been around for well over a year, and have had tons of parents talk about how they have gotten their kids to try new foods like Cauliflower and Broccoli by playing the game casually. Lets face it, if you own a smart phone, your kids are likely playing games on it. Be it on road trips or just to kill a little time at the doctor’s office. By no means do I advocate playing video games for a long time, but an educational game surely is better than any other game out there.

    I also think that Weight Watchers is a great program, and by no means am I knocking it. I think systems like Fooducate help simplify foods using the grading system which is why it is so effective. This game is just another way of simplifying food. Cake isn’t the villain, but when a child is presented with an apple and a slice of cake, it would be great if they chose the apple.

    Again, this blog post is all about real life observations that I’ve seen over the past year, and I just wanted to share here. I am glad to see so many parents here on this blog that are passionate about nutrition! We need more people like you to help combat the childhood obesity epidemic!

  • Violet

    Yeesh! Sometimes I wonder what’s really going on here.

  • Mike Sax

    The game doesn’t say foods are good or bad, they just show how different foods make Mongo feel better or worse. You can get philosophical all you want, but I feel much better after I eat veggies than after I eat cake, and it looks like Mongo feels the same way.

    It’s easy to get critical or get caught up in philosophical arguments, but the bottom line is that my daughter has been playing Gogo Mongo and she’s actually asking for broccoli! What’s not to like!? :)

  • Breah

    I think this is right on! The earlier kids learn good eating habits, the more likely they are to eat healthy in the future. This isn’t to say that someone can’t learn to eat healthy later on in life, but let’s be honest with ourselves, a lot of what we learn as kids we carry into adulthood, and I think this is a fun way for kids to start to associate fruits and vegetables as GOOD foods that make them strong, happy and healthy. Love this app, and I think Mongo is going to help a lot of kids WANT to choose healthier food options!

  • Aly

    I for one think the game is great.. I often use my ipad as a way of distracting my friend’s kids (so I can have a proper adult conversation). Evil i know – but here’s the nugget: the kids enjoy go go mongo just as much as cut the rope, angry birds, fruit ninja, and all the other games I have.. and if they are walking away with a more balanced view of food, then great! Remember.. it’s not that they are starting with a neutral view where cake and broccoli are both equal.. they start off with cake yay and broccoli eeww. If they end the came with broccoli ok and cake maybe not so yay, then it’s a small victory for parents.

  • Jean-eudes lepelletier

    Wow, amazing reactions ! Of course we need to educate kids about food: teaching them first in a simplified way seems to be a natural and good first step to me, and that’s what Go Go Mongo does so well.
    For my younger kids, I make the distinction between Good/bad:
    - for the mouth,
    - for the body.
    Anyway, great post, and we love Go Go Mongo here as well !

  • http://twitter.com/spacemonkeymike Mike Chen

    as a parenting tool Mongo is a good companion to motivate good eating habits, but if you ask me, the choice should be between carrot or stick instead of carrot or cake! haha jk :)

  • Susan P

    I want to ask the first couple people what article they read because it sure wasn’t this one. Maybe they are just stressed or have deeper issues. I read that first paragraph five times and still cannot see anything bad about it; in fact I got the opposite feeling (weight loss places = good). Anyways, moving on, unless you don’t have children or live under a rock then your child does play some sort of games. If my kid can play a fun game and has the bonus of learning that broccoli may be yummy, hello!? I call that awesome. It’s as simple as that. This isn’t about self esteem issues, it’s about a fun game that actually teaches something. I suggest aiming your “fire” at games/apps that are empty of anything worthwhile or quality based and whose creators don’t care one whit about teaching our kids anything. My kids love this game and it’s mascot. You should actually check it out!!

  • Alesha

    Go Go Mongo is a fun app. An app. It is a great app that exposes kids to whole foods and some they may not know about(like califlower) Mongo is a cute lovable character that kids love. Teaching healthy eating still falls on the parents/caregivers shoulders. Apps are a fun way to help teach kids, but ultimately teaching still falls on the parents/caregivers/educators.

  • Dina

    I’m a big believer in teaching kids eating habits at an early age but I can’t get behind categorizing foods as good and bad. “Food needs to be categorized as either good or bad. Carrots good… Cake bad…” The important thing is that kids know how often to eat different foods: carrots more often than cake. Tell kids that cake is bad and not only do you risk inducing shame/guilt into eating, you’re also likely to lose your kids’ trust: one taste of cake will teach them that cake is good and that you’re a liar. Dina http://www.itsnotaboutnutrition.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/eglobal Attila Steven C

    The post talks about obesity in today’s society and what Go Go Mongo game app is trying to do by teaching kids 2-6 years old to choose healthier eating habits.

    If you want your kids to choose cake, let them get fat, get picked on in school and be traumatized for life, so be it, you just failed at parenting (in my opinion).

    But I’d rather have my kid choose healthier foods on their own and I thank Ahmed and companies like Go Go Mongo that are trying to make that happen.