It started with a simple idea: If people tend to overeat because they have trouble estimating portion sizes, why not draw portion sizes directly on a plate? Last year, Dutch designer Annet Bruil sketched out a plate that graphically illustrates a balanced meal. Now–with more evidence that the plate can actually help improve nutrition–she’s ready to start mass manufacturing.
The ETE plate, which to help fund the first production run, is split into pie chart-like sections, each labeled with examples of the food you can fit inside: Salad, meat or tofu, noodles or rice, vegetables, and an overlapping “mix” section to handle the fact that most dinners combine different food groups. By limiting what you eat to what can fit in each wedge, in theory, you’ll become healthier.
The designer has already started testing the plate, beginning by partnering with a lifestyle change program that helps overweight youth improve nutrition. The students involved say it works–and that the plate has helped them start changing habits even when they’re not using it.
“After using the plate for a while, you know better what the portion sizes are from the top of your head,” says one teenager who tested it.
The first study didn’t gather quantitative data, but the designers also plan to work with a healthcare institution to see exactly how much difference the plate can make in a cafeteria setting, testing food intake before and after staff use the plate. “We expect that the plate can have a lot of benefit in larger institutions, like schools,” Bruil says.
Past studies on similar designs have already shown that visual portion control plates can help people lose weight–especially because portion sizes have more than doubled in the last few decades, and most people no longer have an accurate sense of how much they should be eating. Between 1977 and 1996, hamburgers got 23% bigger, snacks got 60% larger, and the average plate of Mexican food at a restaurant became 27% bigger.
While portion control plates have been made before, the new design is arguably better looking. It also aims to be as sustainable as possible. Bruil wanted to avoid using ceramic, which is too heavy and breakable to ship easily, and wanted to choose a recyclable material. After experimenting with glass and some bio-based plastics, she finally landed on bamboo, which absorbs CO2 as it grows and can grow in drought-prone regions. It’s also biodegradable, so though it can last as long as an ordinary plate, it can be composted if needed.
“I like the idea that once you build your healthy eating habit, you can bury your plate in the garden,” Bruil says.
For each 10 plates sold on Indiegogo, Bruil plans to donate one plate to a school to help teach kids the basics of healthy eating. “We hope that if children learn during their school meals, that they can continue their new habit at home and share their new habit with their families,” she says.