Winter 2016

Feast for the Eyes

Simple design tricks make healthy snacks as appealing as junk food

By Martelle Esposito, N11, MPH11, and Joey Zeledón

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Photos: Russell Blanchard and Joey Zeledón

There’s no reason that the design techniques used by food companies to make junk food irresistible can’t be used to make fruit and vegetable snacks appealing, too. Food design, after all, is about more than food—it’s also about creating an experience. Anyone, from food companies to moms and dads, can use these strategies to create fruit and vegetable snacks that kids—and adults—will enjoy.

Focus on ritual. As children in the 1990s, many of our favorite (if not necessarily healthy) snacks involved ritual. There was something wonderful about spreading “cheese” on crackers with a stick to make your own sandwiches. There was something satisfying about cutting out the perforated shapes in “fruit” leather before eating them.

The same strategy can be applied to fruit and vegetable snacks. For example, place carrot sticks into a classic french-fry carton lined with wax paper. The subtle crinkling of the package as each carrot is removed and then dipped in a dollop of hummus adds a touch of delight because the consumer is engaging with the food.

Show, don’t tell. Have you ever received a bouquet of fruit cut into flower shapes? The vibrantly colored fruit is transformed into an appealing display without losing the beauty and identity of the fruit itself. Similarly, Japanese parents make use of the colors and textures found in vegetables, fruit, rice, fish and other whole foods to create bento boxes for their children’s lunches. The food is not processed beyond recognition, but celebrated in a beautiful scene.

The classic lollipop showcases the colors and shape of the candy through a transparent wrapper and a simple, functional stick that doubles as a pedestal. Presenting fruits and vegetables in a similar way celebrates their natural beauty and elevates them to a treat status.

Create purposeful packaging. If you were to see chocolates scattered on a table, they would look like a bunch of brown blobs. However, when they are placed in individual, textured, shiny wrappers in a beautiful box, they are elevated to a special treat. The experience of opening the carefully crafted package creates anticipation that enhances the delight of eating the chocolates.

The same technique can be applied to a fruit cocktail. An assortment of berries placed in the compartments of a chocolate box feels more like a delicacy. It also makes for a slower eating experience, as each piece is savored.

Avoid monotony. If a snack contains a variety of contrasting but complementary ingredients, we are likely to eat more of it. In the case of junk foods, this is a bad thing, but combining different healthy foods into one snack presents an opportunity. Additionally, including a small, calorie-indulgent food in the combination may capture a consumer’s attention, such as a bit of milk chocolate with fruit. Consider, also, the timing of the indulgent ingredient. Designing it to be eaten at the tail end of the snacking experience can encourage the consumer to eat the fruits or vegetables first.

Martelle Esposito is the government affairs manager/CDC community partnerships grant director for the National WIC Association. Joey Zeledón ( is a senior industrial designer at Smart Design and cofounder of the Smart Food Lab. Instagram: @joeyzeledon

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