TableChat: Diet Tracking with your Family

Most food logging apps help individuals to track their diets and hopefully eat more healthily. Even with some social sharing features, this is quite a lonely activity. Yet social support has been shown to help people better manage their health. A key source of such support is the family. So we designed TableChat, a mobile app for families to track their diet together. When families were able to view and chat about their meals together, it encouraged family members to support each other in eating healthily.

The 10 families who used TableChat reported that it helped them exchange support. Using the Social Support Behavior Code, we identified that families provided more tangible support compared to online health communities. One example was by a mother adjusting dinner plans based on seeing what family members had eaten outside of the house for lunch. We also found that participants valued not only supportive actions taken by their family members, but those deliberately not taken (e.g., not bringing back junk food to the home).

We consolidate our findings into a Framework of Complementarity for Family Informatics, which demarcates how virtual tools complement existing family interactions. The lessons we learned can inform designers and developers in creating technologies that help families live healthily.

Table: A Framework of Complementarity for Family Informatics
Example Goal Existing Family Interaction Complementary Virtual Design Example Implementation in TableChat
Collection Burden of collecting data often falls upon a single caregiver Enable multiple family members to assist in tracking Piggybacking on WhatsApp makes it easy for all family members to participate in journaling
Awareness Shared experience already provides awareness of many behaviors (e.g., meals eaten together) Request journaling only for non-shared experiences (e.g., meals eaten apart) Send reminders to journal only for meals eaten apart from family (e.g., lunch)
Support cultural practices Family eating behaviors are deeply linked to cultural norms and traditions Support entry of activities (e.g., meals) from different cultures Free-form journaling allows for photos of and messages about all kinds of meals
Social support
   Tangible Negabehaviors (e.g., I don’t buy junk food) are a valued form of support, but are often overlooked Increase the salience of non-actions that contribute to the family’s health goals Challenge participants to refrain from purchasing an unhealthy item and journal this non-action
   Informational Some families prefer to provide critical feedback in-person Scaffold feedback in virtual interactions to be positive and constructive Caution sender before they send a message with critical feedback
   Emotional / esteem Family members check-in with each other to show that they care Avoid replacing personal reminders with system reminders Prompt one family member to check-in with another about their meal


Lukoff, K., Li, T., Zhuang, Y., & Lim, B. Y. 2018. TableChat: Mobile Food Journaling to Facilitate Family Support for Healthy Eating. In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. CSCW ’18.

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