• 03.25.14

A Redesigned Food Pyramid That Kids Can Actually Understand

The USDA’s iconic nutrition image is not very intuitive. Now two designers have rethought the whole concept as a fun, interactive puzzle.

Even though just a decade ago many Brazilians were struggling to get enough food to eat, now the country is facing the opposite problem: Nearly half of the adult population is overweight. Part of the challenge? Many Brazilians don’t have a good understanding of what makes up a balanced diet. In response, designer Adriano Furtado and nutritionist Gabriela Bizari redesigned the country’s food guidelines into an interactive game.


Brazil has been using a translated version of the classic (and much-maligned) USDA Food Pyramid since 1999. “As an icon, it has a lot of problems,” explains Furtado. “Since it’s a pyramid, the foods at the top–fats and candy–look like they’re more important than the rest of the food groups, especially to kids.” As they interviewed nutritionists, the designers found that getting people to understand what the pyramid meant was a common problem.

“That was our first challenge,” Furtado says. “How can we make something that people will look at and actually understand without a half-hour explanation?” They also wanted to make something interactive, rather than a chart that people would look at once and forget. Meu Dia Alimentar, or My Daily Food, is meant to be used throughout the day.

Since the designers wanted to focus initially on kids, the main version of the food guide is a puzzle. Each food group has its own color and a certain number of puzzle pieces corresponding with the right number of servings. As someone eats something, they pick the corresponding puzzle piece–like a pineapple or a papaya–and place it on the puzzle board. The food groups each have unique shapes. “We tried to make the geometry of each category different from one another so you can’t cheat,” Furtado says.

So far, they’ve tested one prototype with young elementary school students. “We were really happy with the results,” Furtado says. “One 7-year-old said, ‘Oh, if I have butter on my bread, I can’t have oil on my salad at lunch, so I’ll have cream cheese instead.’ They were making these conclusions themselves. It was working.”

They’re making more refinements now, including adding a score that helps reduce the amount of processed foods that students choose. By July, they hope to take it to more schools, along with a service that helps teach the content. “We’ll bring it to private schools first to raise funds to also bring it to public schools,” Furtado explains. They’re also exploring partnerships with the government.

Eventually, Furtado and Bizari hope to bring the game (along with an app, and a puzzle-shaped set of fridge magnets) to more countries, though they say that will take some time. “It’s not just a matter of translating,” Furtado says. “From one country to another, we would have to offer completely different pieces; there are fruits that are common in Brazil, but not in Europe. But this is definitely something we’d like to see adapted to other countries and other cultures.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.