Experts say food-focused phone apps can help families make healthier choices.

“Meal planning apps and features promoting organisation present feasible, time-saving solutions that support healthy food provision practices,” says nutritionist and dietitian Professor Rebecca Golley.

She says apps that incorporate automated planning-related features (such as generating meal plans and shopping lists from recipes) are especially helpful.

Prof Golley recently led a team studying five apps over four weeks with 62 families.

The results suggest that families prioritise time-saving strategies and healthy recipe content in their quest to achieve healthier family meals.

The most effective apps provide simple and fast recipes that are acceptable to families of young children, and are accompanied by appealing, high-quality images of the dish to entice participants and gain their trust.

Planning features such as meal planners and shopping list generators help families to save time.

However, participants in the study still weighed up outcomes gained from the apps such as time-saving against the effort involved in using them when determining the acceptability of apps and app features.

“The behaviour change potential of food provision apps may lie in their ability to be integrated into everyday life, promoting healthy food provision in swift time and an easy context,” says Professor Golley.

It is an important finding, given that only 5 per cent of Australian children consume the recommended serves of vegetables each day and over 30 per cent of children’s energy intake comes from unhealthy sources.

The findings are accessible here.

Professor Golley is currently contributing to a national project and new free toolkit: VegKIT for educators, health professionals and agencies, and is researching the potential efficacy of using digital platforms to disseminate nutritional information.

Supported by Hort Innovation through $4 million in R&D funding, the five-year VegKIT project will deliver a free toolkit for educators, health professionals and research agencies that includes information on dietary guidelines, and evidence-based knowledge of flavour exposure and food preference.