Getting kids to love veggies: Design Interventions in the Stanford dining halls

  • Venue: Stanford Dining Halls
  • Target audience: Freshman
  • Theory of change: Love is missing from the freshman dining experience. If you can redesign the dining hall to communicate love via the vegetarian dishes, you will shift consumption away from meat.

For the first post in this series (a bit belated, I know), I want to share my own experience in increasing vegetable consumption. I took a class last year at Stanford’s design school called “Designing for Sustainable Abundance.” Sustainable abundance was defined as the intersection of three things: 1) good for the planet, 2) good for your health, and 3) good for your wallet. The class centered around a project we completed for Matt Rothe, the Sustainable Food Program Manager for Stanford Dining. The project was to redesign the dining halls in order to reduce meat consumption. Shifting consumption from meat to veggies and grains achieves sustainable abundance because the shift is beneficial to the environment, is healthier for students, and saves Stanford Dining money. Our team of four used the design process, pictured below.

The process begins with empathizing: conducting in-depth interviews with users, aka freshmen at Stanford. We camped out at dining halls and asked a wide range of users about their experiences at the dining halls. The goal of these conversations is to understand our users and uncover their unmet needs. You can accomplish this by asking open-ended questions and consistently following up with “why?” We tried to capture the needs of a range of students including extreme users: users that love or hate the dining halls, users that have restricted diets (vegan, halal, gluten-intolerance) and athletes that just need to eat a ton of food. We began picking up on themes, most notably: the food feels mass-produced, it’s impersonal, it looks unappetizing in such large quantities.

For the “define” step of the process, we synthesized what we heard into our design “point of view.” This is a critical step in the design process that clearly and specifically defines the problem we as designers are trying to solve. A good point of view fuels brainstorming and inspires your team to take action. It’s specific, addressable, and paints a clear picture of your users’ unmet needs. The point of view we landed on was:

“Students who feel like no one gives a s**t about their food need to believe care and personal attention have gone into their dining experience because love is missing in the freshman experience and love inspires good choices.”

The next steps are ideating (aka brainstorming) followed by rapid and iterative prototyping. Our team thought up tons of ideas of how to make students feel the love in their dining experience. The idea was that if we could communicate this love via the non-meat items in the dining hall, we could meet the unmet needs of students and shift the balance of eating habits away from meat and towards vegetables and grains.

So what did we prototype? We tried a ton of stuff, including:

  • We made sample, pre-plated meals which anchored students entering the dining hall on what a “balanced meal” looks like and made the food look “fancy” and “special”
  • We individualized non-meat dishes and made them easy to grab
  • And we tried to forge relationships with the people preparing the food by introducing them and calling out their favorite dish, non-meat of course.
  • All the time working hand-in-hand with the dining hall staff, getting them involved in the process and execution of the prototypes, which was a ton of fun.

After many iterations of our prototypes, and loads of interviewing, we put together a package of solutions we called “Meals made with Care” including many of the above elements. The goal was to use our solutions to bridge the gap between the great work the dining hall does and the way students perceive it. We wanted to communicate the love and care that has gone into the meals. And finally we wanted to build this bridge to the vegetables and grains, rather than the meat items.

When we presented our solutions at the end of the quarter, Matt and his team chose a few of the ideas to implement and test, including some of our proposals. A team led the testing of the solutions during spring quarter and found a statistically significant increase in the proportion of non-meat items consumed. Now Stanford Dining has incorporated many of the solutions into the brand new dining hall on campus, the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons.

Overall it was a really enlightening experience and showed me there’s huge potential in exploring non-traditional ways of influencing dietary choices. The class is offered each winter—highly recommend it!

About Michelle Paratore

Management consultant obsessed with food justice, food politics, food start-ups, food sustainability, and eating food too...
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2 Responses to Getting kids to love veggies: Design Interventions in the Stanford dining halls

  1. Pingback: Stanford Food Summit 4 | Edible Startups

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