"Cafeteria Safari- an adventure in food selection for children with peanut or tree nut allergies."
An Adventure in safe food selection for children with peanut or tree nut allergies
An Adventure in safe food selection for children with peanut or tree nut allergies

About The Food Allergy Game Project

The Problem Rise in Food Allergy

For reasons that are still unclear, food allergies among children are increasing. Clearly then, the sooner children understand their trigger-allergic foods, the better they become at managing their lives. "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of U.S. children under 18 with a reported food allergy jumped 18% from 1997 to 2007, and the number of children hospitalized for food allergies has nearly quadrupled in recent years" (Park, 2009).

Education for Food Allergic Children

Yet, few educational materials exist that are targeted at the most at-risk population—children. We see reference books, cookbooks, instructional DVDs, and so forth but they are all aimed at adults who in turn must re-educate the child.

Of course most of these educational materials require an aptitude for reading that young children lack, so a kind of second-hand knowledge transfer falls to the adult. But what if we used technology to change all that?

What Makes Cafeteria Safari Different

The problem from my viewpoint is that children need to educate themselves directly, as well. Cafeteria Safari is an educational video game that can help! It's grounded in established educational theory that argues self-constructed knowledge gained through experience--even a virtual experience--can result in deeper knowledge transfer, over an adult trying to transfer that knowledge.

Think back to when you were a child. How did you learn best?

Did you learn best through direct experience, or by having something told to you? Leveraging on technology, Cafeteria Safari offers a direct experience through an interactive, virtual setting.

The experience is broad. Cafeteria Safari is a fun, self-motivating, fully interactive educational adventure that does not require an aptitude for reading.

Why a Video Game?

Educators and researchers repeatedly return to the conclusion that one advantage of educational games is that games tend to generate a much higher level of students' positive emotional engagement, thus making the learning experience more motivating and appealing (Rieber et al., 1998). I submit that combining the proven success of an interactive computer game with the need for educating young food-allergic children of the digital generation to be a logical, noble, and exciting endeavor.

"The Federation of American Scientists (FAS, 2006) called video games the next great discovery, as they offer a way to captivate students to the point that they will spend hours learning on their own time (Anetta, 2008)."

Helping a young child to understand the abstraction of his or her food allergy is a tremendous challenge. But an awareness of food allergy can still be achieved by recognizing the objectives of Cafeteria Safari. 1) Achieve an increased understanding of foods that can make them sick, recognize some of the foods that are safe to eat, and to ask their adult care giver when uncertain about the safety of certain foods. 2), children who are not food-allergic can learn about food allergies to understand better the needs of their friends and family members who are food allergic.

Rather than realistic "photographs" of the food items, I use bright cheerful representations of the food items. I chose bright representations to enable children to recognize food types, in the familiar, friendly cartoonish style that is already familiar to this age group.

Keith Grigoletto, M.A.
CEO, KMG Educational Technology Products
Graduate Student, New York University, Steinhardt School of Education, Culture, and Human Development: Program of Educational, Communication and Technology.