Setting the Stage: the Meal Cards

In this activity, I was testing out practicalities of the gather/ prepare/ cook system with a bare-bones layout of meal cards. These cards were just prototypes. For the final, I may use a more resistant stock and have them possibly coated or laminated.

The Meal

For this session, I built in lots of extra time. While talking to the child participant last week about the idea of cooking together she requested we make a desert. So, even though my project is about making dinner I thought it would be a nice ice-breaker. Showing the gather, prepare cook of each item, the menu in order of how we prepared it was:

Apple Crisp




Pot stickers/dumplings

Stir-fry with flexible options for child to decide: Peanut sauce or sesame-ginger sauce (she choose sesame-ginger) also choice of rice or noodles (she choose noodles).

Note: sauce was made first to facilitate quicker cooking towards dinnertime.


For this round, I purposely didn’t divide kid vs adult activities, this was an experiment to test out capabilities and where there was room for separation of tasks.

Also, these pictures were taken after we used the cards. For each recipe, I set all three steps on their refrigerator at child’s eye level. At first I handed her the gather card to the participant but then it kept getting set down and lost. This also required me to change the recipe on the fridge at each transition (and keep track of where I set the other recipes when we weren’t using them).

An interesting part of experience was how we created a make-shift display system. We discovered that if we got paper wet, it stuck to the microwave where we could both see it (her on the stool).

On a side note, I personally like when recipes look ‘used.’ That is how I informally keep track of recipes i use and like, to me when the pages of a cookbook are wrinkled and worn that is an indicator of a good recipe.

The cards filtered the process of cooking so that through gather you can have all necessary tools and ingredients ready. In prepare, most of the work is done and ingredients are grouped in sets using small and medium mixing bowls. Then when it comes to cooking, it becomes quite simple. For most recipe the cooking portion was add ‘prepared bowl of food X’ to ‘pot Y’ then add ‘prepared bowl of food Z.’ This made cooking really accessible and reduced most of the chaos that often accompanies cooking.

Some Reflections

  • I was hoping gather could be a relatively independent activity for kids but did require monitoring.
  • The icons were very helpful for the child to identify items and then go do a task, but just as helpful (and quicker) was me calling out instructions or items to gather.
  • While doing the activity, it felt like Gather was taking away precious cooking time but once we got to Cook all the work was nearly done. This may challenge the parents perception of time and potentially cause initial anxiety.
  • In prepare, we ended up testing out the child’s ability. After reading over the whole card I asked her what she wanted to do. She tried a few tasks that I had to finish (such as peeling or chopping certain foods) but overall she learned new skills and felt ownership over her contributions.

We found that the system was so efficient that we were actually ready with time to spare. Within an hour and a half we had made the apple crisp, prepared the pot stickers and made the stir-fry sauce. All that was left was chopping and cooking the stir-fry veggies and steaming pot stickers. I ended up having to stall a bit or dinner would have been done by 4:00! I think that’s one sign of success.

Closing Thoughts

This structure was a success and the flexibility of selecting a sauce and starch helped the child to engage with what we were cooking. The one downside is the challenge of planning on my end reinterpreting recipes, laying them out, thinking through the flexibility, creating new icons, processing all necessary tools, etc. required a large and complicated process. If my role as a designer is not to specify what meals or recipe to eat but to facilitate cross-generational cooking, how do I continue with this effective system in a way that lends itself to user-generated content? I think that is a question to ponder for a while.

Thanks again to the lovely Rebecca Nicholls for her assistance with this activity!

JournalKaren Whistler