Local school districts and the Greater Washington County Food Bank (Food Helpers) are teaming up to encourage kids to make good food choices and to provide them with healthy snacks.
LittleMoochi is an app that teaches healthy eating habits by having children feed a virtual “Moochi” pet.
When children eat a meal or snack, they feed their pet at the same time by taking a photo of what’s on their plate and uploading it to the app.
The AI-powered LittleMoochi app recognizes millions of different types of food and compares it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrition guidelines.
When kids eat wholesome foods, their Moochi becomes stronger, healthier and happier. If they eat too many unhealthy foods and sugary snacks, Moochi doesn’t feel well and becomes unhappy.
As incentive, children also receive coins, which they can use to “buy” clothes for their pets or items to decorate their Moochi’s home.
The Greater Washington County Food Bank delivers Moochi packs – which include healthy snacks – to area schools so that children can have healthy food options to continue playing along at home.
Participating school districts are Avella, Charleroi, California Area, Bethlehem-Center, Fort Cherry, Ringgold, Trinity Area and Carmichaels Area.
In upcoming weeks, the food bank plans to add Brownsville, Bentworth, McGuffey, West Greene, Central Greene, Southeastern Greene, and Jefferson-Morgan school districts.
The program has been well-received at Beth-Center, where 235 students in kindergarten through fifth grade are participating.
“I can’t say enough good things about the program. Aside from it promoting smart eating, it provides these kids with five types of smart, healthy snacks. It’s just a good thing,” said Beth-Center Superintendent Donald McFann, noting students also received a backpack when the program launched.
The partnership between the school districts and GWCFB helps address childhood obesity, which as tripled over the past three years. An estimated 21% of children between the ages of 2 and 19 were obese in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
LittleMoochi is aimed at helping children eat healthier not by counting calories but by teaching them about a healthy diet.
LittleMoochi’s primary purpose is to promote healthy food choices, but it also helps to fight food insecurity.
There are an estimated 3,600 food-insecure children in elementary schools in Washington, Greene, and Fayette counties, according to Food Helpers.
“We really want to educate kids on making better choices, but there are some kids who want to participate in the program but wouldn’t have access to healthy snacks at home, so we’re addressing that food insecurity component as well,” said Cherise Sandrock, Director of Development at GWCFB.
Charleroi Area School District has paired LittleMoochi with its Harvest Bounty Program, which provides 172 elementary school students with shelf-stable, kid-friendly foods to make sure kids have healthy snacks over the weekend.
About 54% of Charleroi’s students participate in the free and reduced lunch program for economically disadvantaged students.
“Many of our students rely on the free and reduced breakfasts and lunch for a nutritious meal during the week, and with (Harvest Bounty and LittleMoochi), our goal is to fill in the gap on the weekend,” said Kathy Franks, elementary reading teacher who serves on the Harvest Bounty team.
LittleMoochi was developed by Carnegie Mellon graduate student Summer (Qinxian) Xia in 2019.