Mobile app increases vegetable-based preparations by low-income household cooks: a randomized controlled trial

Public Health Nutr. 2019 Mar;22(4):714-725. doi: 10.1017/S1368980018003117. Epub 2018 Nov 26.


Objective: We built an app to help clients of food pantries. The app offers vegetable-based recipes, food tips and no-cost strategies for making mealtimes healthier and for bargain-conscious grocery shopping, among other themes. Users customize materials to meet their own preferences. The app, available in English and Spanish, has been tested in a randomized field trial.

Design: A randomized controlled trial with repeated measures across 10 weeks.

Setting: Clients of fifteen community food pantry distributions in Los Angeles County, USA.ParticipantsDistributions were randomized to control and experimental conditions, and 289 household cooks and one of their 9-14-year-old children were enrolled as participants. Experimental dyads were given a smartphone with our app and a phone use-plan, then trained to use the app. 'Test vegetables' were added to the foods that both control and experimental participants received at their pantries.

Results: After 3-4 weeks of additional 'test vegetables', cooks at experimental pantries had made 38 % more preparations with these items than control cooks (P = 0·03). Ten weeks following baseline, experimental pantries also scored greater gains in using a wider assortment of vegetables than control pantries (P = 0·003). Use of the app increased between mid-experiment and final measurement (P = 0·0001).

Conclusions: The app appears to encourage household cooks to try new preparation methods and widen their incorporation of vegetables into family diets. Further research is needed to identify specific app features that contributed most to outcomes and to test ways in which to disseminate the app widely.

Keywords: Food pantries; Fresh vegetables; Low-income; Nutrition; Smartphone app.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • California
  • Child
  • Cooking / methods*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Food Assistance
  • Food Supply
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Poverty*
  • Smartphone
  • Vegetables*
  • Young Adult