Chipotle in a Vending Machine?!

CSE 440 Staff
5 min readNov 28, 2023

Meet Foochine: A nutritional food vending machine for students at the University of Washington
By Amy Cheng, Betty Cheng, Ha Vi Duong, Jessie Lin

Figure 1: Foochine vending machine drawing with screen to show food options, a compartment for food to come out, compartment for utensils

Problem and Solution

In a fast-paced environment, college students often sacrifice their nutritious daily eating habits due to their academic and extracurricular activities in college. The majority prioritize convenience in their food choices which can inadvertently lead to malnutrition and health issues due to eating irregularly. Furthermore, many students can’t afford the expensive meal plans and take-outs on campus.

Our proposed solution is to provide vending machines that sell nutritious meal combos that are great alternatives for people who are already buying take-outs. These are cooked nutritious meals that are cheap and convenient, including options tailored to specific dietary needs. The vending machines are placed in different buildings across campus, which are accessible for students to grab a meal before or after their classes. This is a great way for students to remember to eat their meals based on their schedules. These meals are sponsored by local restaurants and grocery stores to diversify the meal combos. The vending machines offer discounts at a certain time which help students to save money on buying food. The meals would have nutritional labels and infographics to inform students about their meals’ nutritional benefits.

Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants

The two design methods that we used for our research were “Fly-on-the-Wall” observation and interviews. We believe that these will help gain insight into the meal intake habits of UW students. The primary users of our design will be University of Washington college students, who will potentially use our products in dorms, dining areas, classrooms, and events. As UW students, our team can engage with potential users easily, conducting research to understand their needs, habits, and challenges in nutrition and food accessibility. We propose that the stakeholders can extend beyond students to a broader community, including UW faculty and staff who are interested in healthy food. We also hope to collaborate with or provide benefits to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and food delivery companies, as they can contribute to creating an environment that promotes healthy eating choices as well. What’s more, nutritionists can provide professional guidance. UW visitors, family, and friends of college students can benefit from healthier dining options when visiting campus.

Key Findings from Design Research

We used two design research methods for our product market fit: Interviews and Fly-on-the-Wall. During interviews, we inquired with the college students about their meal habits. Based on the interviews we’ve conducted, we learned that many students at the University of Washington often cook their meals rather than buy food on campus. Many focus on making nutritious meals that suit their taste preferences. Once in a while, they also enjoy grabbing food from restaurants at the UW campus.

Through our Fly-on-the-Wall research method, we learned that campus food doesn’t offer a variety of nutritious options. We observed two on-campus dining halls and the Husky Union Building (HUB), which has a food court and a small snack store. Many students would buy the cheapest and most convenient meals. These meals may not be the most nutritious for them. The common themes we found about the food on campus are that they are expensive, not nutritional, inconvenient, and unappetizing.

Common Themes: Expensive, Nutrition, Inconvenience, Unappetizing

One of the high-level themes that emerged from both the interviews and observations was the long lines of on-campus dining. Participants from the interviews frequently mentioned the challenges of waiting in lengthy queues. According to the observations from Fly-on-the-Wall, students waited for more than 15 minutes in line to order during peak hours at popular food vendors. This inconvenience will be particularly bothersome when students rush to grab a quick meal between classes. The problem relates to ways to streamline the on-campus dining experience, reduce waiting times, and enhance the overall convenience for students.

Another common theme that was prominent with our interviewees is that the on-campus food is not that nutritious. These foods are fatty, sugary, and/or processed foods. These are meals that are not very nutritionally abundant and appetizing. They mentioned that there is not an abundant amount of nutritious food. Snacks and items are based on convenience for the students.

University of Washington students think on-campus food is expensive. They would rather eat lunch brought from their own homes, or opt to cook themselves. If they need a quick meal, they would eat something light instead of buying from on-campus places. Eating out is considered a rare occurrence for our interviewees. These practices suggest that it’s important to design an alternative food choice for students on campus. A solution to this problem is to offer affordable, nutritious meals to UW students.

Many students find that the food on UW campus is unappetizing. The food at the HUB and other dining halls doesn’t offer a wide range of options of food. Also, the taste of the food can be unappealing to many. Some students are particular about their food preferences and the dining halls on campus lack the variety of meals to fit the students’ tastes. This can lead to some problems where students would settle to cook their meals and learn how to prepare a variety of dishes. By cooking their food, students would need to set a time in their weekly schedule to prepare meals and practice cooking meals they like to eat.

Proposed Design

Based on our interviews, we found that students could not find nutritious meals on the UW campus and on-campus food isn’t appetizing. After using the Fly-on-the-Wall method, students eat from the dining halls based on convenience and opt to buy cheaper items from the menu. Our design, the vending machine, will tackle all four of these common themes we found based on our research.

The vending machine will sell meals that are inexpensive, nutritious, and tasty. The vending machines would be placed around campus, near students’ classrooms, and other convenient locations. Our solution supports UW students buying nutritious and convenient meals rather than take-outs.

Figure 2: Buying Take-outs Around Campus

Instead of eating out on the Ave or eating at the dining halls, the design will provide a convenient option for those who are in a rush. This will provide an opportunity to eat a nutritionally balanced meal without breaking the buck and convenient.

Figure 3: Buying nutritious food

Getting the right nutrients can be hard for college students, as we concluded in our research. Having ready-to-eat meals that are both convenient and nutritious is ideal for our target audience.

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CSE 440 Staff

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction