PhotoKids rarely regard food as anything more than fuel. And the rare meal that isn’t mom-curated is usually selected by a child’s taste buds.

Pondering how food choices affect the planet generally isn't on the menu among middle school-aged children -- but soon, a new app may change that.

The University of Illinois has begun developing a new educational software application that will introduce middle school students to the topic of climate change and show them how the food they eat affects the environment.

Students who use the Food for Thought computer app can drag food selections to a virtual plate on the screen. The app will then tally the nutritional data and carbon footprint associated with each item and reveal just how much Mother Earth will be sacrificing to produce the meal.

Curriculum and instruction professor, Emma Mercier, says the app focuses on two main learning goals: to make kids aware of the causes and impacts of climate change and help them become “data literate” -- which is to say, she adds, “knowledgeable consumers of the media.”

Small choices matter

At the end of a nine-day curriculum on the topic of climate change, Mercier and her research team gathered together the children in their test group. Then, on a big computer screen, kids could enter the information they recorded in their food diaries over the weekend.

After kids looked at the carbon footprints associated with their meals, they were challenged to put together a calorie-sufficient meal that had the least impact on the planet.

The researchers were surprised to discover that children were highly engaged in the activity.

"The excitement level -- and noise -- in this room was astounding," Mercier said in a statement. "The teachers who observed their students' work in the lab said that even the kids who are usually difficult to engage were very engaged with this activity.”

One student even said she was inspired to eat something other than a steak while out to dinner with her parents -- a true testament to the idea that kids are very much on board with the idea that small choices do matter.

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