Could an Israeli Startup Train Iranian Kids to Eat Right?

Startlingly simple Plate My Meal invention (plates...) is also a boon for busy parents, by physically showing not only portion sizes and times, but food groups.

Research has shown that "diet plates," like Plate My Meal's products, can be effective in changing eating habits.
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We’ve all heard the siren song of chocolate chip pancakes with eggs and extra sausage. In fact, most people have lousy eating habits. In our defense, we are predisposed to adore fat-rich foods, and the less said about sugar the better: but another fact is that if you start kids eating right early, they're more likely to continue eating right later on.

Enter Dror Tamir, founder and CEO of Plate my Meal. That's a startup offering a way to instill healthy eating habits in toddlers - an idea so simple, low-cost and effective that not only parents and the Israeli government, but even the Iranian Ministry of Health, is charmed.

The product isn't a course in hypnosis: it's a five-piece set of plastic plates. They explain when to eat (and suggest times): One plate for breakfast, one for mid-morning snack, one for lunch, one for afternoon snack, and the fifth is one for dinner.  

The plates also delicately control how much to eat: Each plate is divided into compartments, which indicate actual portion size.

And what foods should Baby have? The startup has even planned the healthy meals for you - the pictures on the plates show food groups appropriate for the specific meal.

The Plate My Meal set shows time of meal, type of food and portions, too.
Dror Tamir

Special "diet plates" have done well in clinical trials, which have shown time and again that adults can achieve significant weight loss. Preliminary results of Plate my Meal trials, conducted at the Clalit healthcare fund's Meir Medical Center, in Kfar Saba, intermittently for about two years, are significant, Tamir says: “The impact is on both decreasing food intake, and increasing food variety. The kids are eating more protein and vegetables at the expense of fat and carbohydrates... it's excellent.”

What the plates can't do is instill culture. “If a kid is used to eating his meal alone, in front of the T.V., this is a very bad habit that will be really hard to change later,” Tamir says. (This opinion is reinforced by a McMaster University study published Tuesday, proving how profoundly television ads for junk food influence children, and child obesity rates.)

Eating five times a day may seem like a lot for a toddler, but Tamir jokes that this is a concern only a man would have. Mothers remember breast-feeding every two to three hours, which works out to about five meals a day, he points out.

There are similar products around, including MyPlate, Create Your Plate, the Diet Plate, and the Adult Portion Plate, among others. The distinction of Plate my Meal is to suggest eating times, food varieties and portion control, all together, Tamir says. Other diet plates don't: For example, MyPlate — a product created by the United States Department of Agriculture— only provides one plate suggesting four different food groups and vaguely recommends portion size.

Michelle Obama even endorsed MyPlate when it was first released. "What's more simple than a plate?" she asks. To which Tamir says: "A meal."

Dror Tamir has received encouragement for his child nutrition venture from an unexpected source - Maryam Zarei, a pediatrician with the Ministry of Health in Iran.
Steak TzarTzar

Products similar to Plate my Meal have done well. For example, the U.K.-based The Diet Plate presents clinical trial data on diabetics using the diet plate, and claims to have achieved a 17% clinically significant weight loss among diabetics (against the control group) . The company also says that 26% experienced a decrease in diabetes medication requirements.

Tamir, who also breeds grasshoppers for food, based Plate My Meal's nutritional suggestions on USDA guidelines. The counsel on www.choosemyplate.gov regarding food variety and food amounts helped guide his nutritional suggestions as well, he says.

Big in Tehran?

Based on the preliminary results, the Israeli Health Ministry, which is horrified by the rising incidence of obesity among Israeli children, has endorsed the product and is mulling application of Plate My Meal as a national program in preschool.

'Plate My Meal' in Farsi: Could an Israeli startup teach better nutrition habits to Iranian children?
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Tamir also received endorsement from an unexpected source - Maryam Zarei, a pediatrician with the Ministry of Health in Iran, who contacted Tamir via LinkedIn two years ago. Iran also has a problem with child obesity, it turns out. The two have exchanged many emails since then and Tamir was even invited to speak at a convention in Tehran, though if he were to do it, it would have to be online.

Be that as it may – Tamir has created a version of the product for Persian children and has completed the graphics and design in Farsi, though how exactly business would be done with Iran remains to be seen. “All the way, they know I’m an Israeli,” he said. “It was no secret.”

Plate my Meal has been available for purchase in Israel since June and should be more widely available in a month or two. Online, it is only available at www.toyz.co.il but that should change fast: Tamir is talking with Amazon and with leading retailers. He's also looking for partners in the U.S. to carry the plates, and recently got back from a two-week trip in pursuit of that goal.  The plates are manufactured in Israel and cost $19.90 for the set of five.