Background: Parents juggling caregiving and paid employment encounter a range of barriers in providing healthy food to their families. Mobile apps have the potential to help parents in planning, purchasing, and preparing healthy family food. The utility and acceptability of apps for supporting parents are unknown. User perspectives of existing technology, such as commercially available apps, can guide the development of evidence-based apps in the future.
Objective: This study aims to determine the feasibility of existing commercially available apps for supporting the healthy food provision practices of working parents.
Methods: Working parents (N=133) were recruited via the web and completed a 10-item Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, and Behavior (COM-B) self-evaluation survey assessing their needs in relation to the provision of healthy family meals. A total of 5 apps were selected for testing, including a meal planning app, recipe app, recipe manager app, family organizer app, and barcode scanning app. Survey items were mapped to app features, with a subsample of parents (67/133, 50.4%) allocated 2 apps each to trial simultaneously over 4 weeks. A semistructured interview exploring app utility and acceptability and a web-based survey, including the System Usability Scale and the user version of the Mobile App Rating Scale, followed app testing. The interview data were analyzed using a theoretical thematic approach.
Results: Survey participants (N=133; mean age 34 years, SD 4 years) were mainly mothers (130/133, 97.7%) and partnered (122/133, 91.7%). Participants identified a need for healthy recipes (109/133, 82% agreed or strongly agreed) and time for food provision processes (107/133, 80.5%). Engagement quality was the lowest rated domain of the user version of the Mobile App Rating Scale across all 5 apps (mean score per app ranging from 3.0 to 3.7 out of a maximum of 5). The family organizer, requiring a high level of user input, was rated the lowest for usability (median 48, IQR 34-73). In the interviews, participants weighed the benefits of the apps (ie, time saving) against the effort involved in using them in determining their acceptability. Organization was a subtheme emerging from interviews, associated with the use of meal planners and shopping lists. Meal planners and shopping lists were used in time, while behavior was occurring.
Conclusions: Meal planning apps and features promoting organization present feasible, time-saving solutions to support healthy food provision practices. Attention must be paid to enhancing app automation and integration, as well as recipe and nutrition content, to ensure that apps do not add to the time burden of food provision and are supportive of healthy food provision behavior in time.
Keywords: behavior modification; diet; family; mobile applications; nutrition.