VeggieBook, a mobile app for Android and iOS smartphones (VB)

University of Southern California

Overview

VeggieBook is a social marketing and direct education intervention app that is designed to help users choose customized recipes and healthy eating tips which ultimately lead to increased vegetable-based preparation for meals at home. The app invites a user to create a new VeggieBook or SecretsBook. VeggieBooks are sets of recipes, each set built around 1 of 10 vegetables. A series of questions posed by the app helps users select recipes and food preparation tips of interest. Recipes use simple ingredients most households have and have been tested for user-appeal. SecretsBooks are 5 sets of illustrated ideas about food use and acquisition–Secrets to Better Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Snacks, and Shopping. The app’s emphasis on users’ choices promotes just-in-time learning.

Target Behavior: Healthy Eating, Food Insecurity/Food Assistance

Intervention Type: Direct Education, Social Marketing

Intervention Reach and Adoption

VeggieBook targets household cooks, but also can be used by individuals aged 9 years and older in a variety of settings. VeggieBook can be adopted by anyone who controls a smartphone and knows how to download apps from either Google or Apple.  The app is available in English and Spanish; users can toggle back and forth to change language. VeggieBook has been implemented by various community-based organizations in California, Michigan, Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. VeggieBook was designed with food pantry clients in mind, yet a wide variety of people find the app helpful and intuitive to use. VeggieBook has been disseminated in settings such as food pantries (stationary and mobile), nutrition classes offered by food banks, public schools where parents drop and pick up middle-school children, farmers markets, retail food stores, health fairs, and health clinics.

Setting: Child care (Learn), Community (Live), Faith-based community, Farmers markets, Food pantries, Health care, Retail (Shop/Eat), School (Learn)

Target Audience: Middle School, High School, Pregnant/Breastfeeding Women, Parents/Mothers/Fathers, Adults, Older Adults, Food Pantry Clients

Race/Ethnicity: All, special focus on food pantry clients

Intervention Components

VeggieBook includes a user-friendly downloadable app. This intervention component provides information on vegetable-based recipes and ideas about food use and acquisition that lead to increased confidence in using and consuming vegetables. Each app user chooses the recipes and Secrets they desire. The app provides each user a customized selection of recipes (from a cache of 260) and a customized selection of illustrated, no-cost ideas for improved meals and food shopping (from 80 available). The intervention is customizable to the user’s desired knowledge. Categories that the user can use to customize the content delivered include cooking method, recipes that are kid-friendly, combining a vegetable with meat, making a soup, preparing for just 1-2 people, preparing for people with diabetes, how to store or freeze or prevent spoilage of the vegetable, whether Latino or Asian or Soul Food flavors are sought, and more. Sustained and effective use of VeggieBook benefits greatly from dissemination efforts that include “human touches” that app builders have documented in experimental trials.  The app may be configured to provide color, printed output, as well as content on phones. 

The intervention includes the app itself, plus a backend analytics function that records each user’s interactions with VeggieBook.  These interactions include collections of recipes and Secrets that a user creates, and time and geo-location of those creations.  The analytics function permits any organization that adopts and distributes its version of VeggieBook (see below) to document usage in a non-invasive manner. 

Intervention Materials

In previous deployments of VeggieBookwhile the app builders studied its effectiveness with low-income users (see Evidence below), the app was freely available for users’ downloading from the Play Store and the Apple Store.  Starting in early 2021, however, the builders of VeggieBook withdrew its version of the app from these stores.  Instead, the app code and documentation in their entirety have been made available in Open Source at https://github.com/VeggieBookOpenSource.  This means that any entity, including a SNAP-Ed program, can adapt the app in any way that it wishes, without a license, fee, or permission.  For example, an organization could incorporate its own brand identification into the app, change or add content such as recipes and Secrets, or alter functionality.  The organization would then submit its own version of VeggieBook for inclusion on the Play Store and Apple Store.  An adapting organization would also be able to make use of VeggieBook’s analytics function. 

The VeggieBook developers are available for free consultations about how best to incorporate the app in a community organization’s activities. See Additional Information below.

Intervention Costs

VeggieBook is available free of charge. To make changes to the app (including renaming it) requires software programming. 

Evidence Summary

Extensive formative research with pantry clients shaped the app’s content and navigational features. The app’s effectiveness in yielding improved outcomes among pantry clients was gauged with a randomized controlled trial with nearly 300 households. This study found that food pantry clients using VeggieBook began preparing 38% more vegetable servings compared to control clients. Other evaluation shows that 66% of cooks who used VeggieBook reported gaining confidence in performing kitchen tasks compared to 4% of control cooks. VeggieBook has also been shown to increase children’s (age 9-14 years) participation in preparing household meals.  VeggieBook is endorsed by a nurse practitioner and the app’s advisory board of pantry clients.

Publications on VeggieBook’s outcome and process evaluation can be found online:

Evidence-based Approach: Research-tested

Evaluation Indicators

Based on the SNAP-Ed Evaluation Framework, the following outcome indicators can be used to evaluate intervention progress and success.

Readiness and Capacity – Short Term (ST) Changes – Medium Term (MT) Effectiveness and Maintenance – Long Term (LT) Population Results (R)
Individual ST1 MT1
Environmental Settings
Sectors of Influence
  • ST1: 66% of cooks who used VeggieBook reported gaining confidence in performing kitchen tasks compared to 4% of control cooks
  • MT1: 38% increase in the use of test vegetables among food pantry clients using VeggieBook compared to control clients in week following pantry distribution (unduplicated preparations)

Evaluation Materials

Additional Information

Website: VeggieBook’s developers are on the faculty at the University of Southern California at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism whose website includes information on the University of Southern California – Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism including academic programs, faculty, and research.  The University of Southern California’s website can be accessed with this link A demonstration of the app can be found in this video.

Contacts:

Susan H. Evans or Peter Clarke
310-204-1633
shevans@usc.edu; chmc@usc.edu