Build-A-Meal Rummy

by Mark Warmbrand

Mark Warmbrand is a graduate student in Educational Technology at San Diego State University. He wouldn't be caught dead in a card game.


Instructional Objective
The children will be able to identify the major food groups and some of the foods that belong within them. The learners will also recognize the idea that each meal should include food from a variety of food groups.

The learners for this game include children from 6 to 9 years of age. The children should be introduced to the game as part of a class unit on food and nutrition. The playing of the game is designed to reinforce the concepts of food groups and the importance of food variety in meals. After exposure to the game, instructors can find ways to link the playing of the game to an awareness of the food groups that the students consume as part of their daily meals (see Variations below).

The tasks involved for this instruction require the learning of classifications. Card games are suitable as a means to reinforce this type of learning. They provide a fun and challenging way for children to practice categorizing the subject matter. This game also attempts to model a real world experience, putting together and eating a healthy meal. Since cards can represent real foods (e.g. banana, bread, chicken), and they can be assembled into physical groups, they afford the learner with the opportunity to Build-A-Hand that roughly maps to the building of an actual meal. This serves to strengthen the likelihood that learning will be transferred to the real world.

How To Play
STANDARD PLAY: The object of this game is to build a hand that contains all the necessary food groups in a healthy proportion: 3 cards from the Fruit & Vegetable Group, 2 from the Grains Group, 1 from the Dairy Group, and 1 from the Meats Group. Each card (see Card Design) contains one food item but does not identify the food group. Two to four players can play at the same time. Play occurs as in traditional rummy card games. All players are dealt seven cards. The remainder cards become the draw pile and are placed on the table between the players. The top card is turned over and placed beside the draw pile to create the discard pile. The first player can choose the top card from the discard pile or a new card from the draw pile. The player then discards one card onto the discard pile. Each player proceeds in this manner until one player has built a healthy meal as noted above. The Water wildcards can be used to substitute for any needed card. The Candy and Soda Cards are of no value in building a winning hand.

LONG PLAY: The object of this version is to build the following card groups: 3 Fruit Cards, 3 Vegetable Cards, 3 Grain Cards, 2 Dairy Cards, and 2 Meats Cards. This game is played in rummy fashion with completed groups of cards (e.g. 3 Grain Cards) placed face up on the table in front of the player. All players are dealt six cards. The first player begins by choosing a card from the draw or discard pile. The player then must either discard one card to the discard pile, or lay down one card group as identified above. Play continues until one player has laid down all the necessary card groups. If a player gets down to having only one card, they must pick up three cards from the draw pile on their next turn.

Structuring in levels of difficulty The game includes one Food Category Card. This card lists each food group and the foods from the game cards that belong to it. Depending on the level of knowledge of the learners, this card can be used in the following ways:

  1. The card is placed face up next to the draw pile. Children can refer to it when they want to check on the food group categories. This is best for children who are new to the concept of food groups and have not yet memorized the groups and their components.



  2. The card is placed face down next to the draw pile. If a player needs to check the proper food category for a food, then that player picks up the Food Category Card instead of drawing a card from the draw or discard pile. After reviewing the card, it is returned face down to its original position. This serves as the players turn. This method is best for children who have already begun to memorize the food groups. It provides additional motivation for children to learn and remember the groups, so that they will not need to use up a turn in order to view the card.


Other Variations
BREAKFAST: In order to reinforce the learning objectives, instructors should find ways to link the game to ths real life experiences of the children. The following variation offers one way to accomplish this. Instead of dealing out seven random cards to all the players, each child begins with a hand that includes the food groups represented in their morning breakfast (honesty required). Then they are dealt random cards until all players have seven. Play occurs as noted above. This variation requires children to apply their knowledge of food groups to their daily meal eating experience. (Those who eat more food varieties will also gain an advantage.)

FOOD WAR: This variation was a spontaneous creation of my daughter Katie. She determined that ordinality was evident in the food pyramid - foods requiring more servings per day had the highest value, whereas the foods requiring less servings had the lowest. Play according to the standard rules of war.

Deck Design
This deck is composed of cards that represent the four major food groups, two unhealthy foods, Water wild cards, and a Food Category Reference Card. Each card represents a different food item but does not identify its food classification. The total of 49 cards breaks down as follows:

Fruits & Vegetables - 14 cards
Grains - 12 cards
Meats - 5 cards
Dairy - 5 cards
Candy - 5 cards
Soda - 5 cards
Water - 2 card
Food Category Card - 1 card

The proportion of cards for each category reflects the required card arrangements needed for a winning hand. The unhealthy foods, Candy and Soda, were included to make the play more difficult and to contrast their relative lack of value (It is a small pleasure to hear a player exclaim Oh no, not another candy!). Water serves as a wildcard which can substitute for any needed card, thus representing the relative value of water for good nutrition. The Food Category Card is a reference card that categorizes the foods within their groupings.


Card Design
Each card contains a drawing and the name of one food item that can be categorized within the groups identified above. The food group is not identified on the card. This forces the player to learn and remember the food categories and their members. The drawing will provide easy recognition for the player. The name is also included to aid in word recognition and spelling. The cards are the size of standard playing cards.

Sample Cards



Easy Development Idea Classrooms can easily develop a deck or two of these cards. As part of a food study unit, children can draw these foods on to blank playing cards. The instructor only needs to insure that the right proportion of cards are created.

Design Process
I wanted to create a card game that would help young children to think about the basic food groups and the value of eating a variety of foods. A rummy-type game was an easy match, but the difficulties came when trying to create some challenge. My initial prototype proved far to easy to Build-A-Meal and win. The game had to remain manageable for six year olds, stay true to its content, and provide some engaging rounds of play. The variables that I had to work with included the composition of the deck, the composition of the required card groupings, and the method of play. With the help of my daughter, I manipulated these variables until we compiled a relatively effective game. Variations are provided as a means to increase the challenge and lengthen the play.

Return to the Card Game Table of Contents.

Educational Technology 670, Fall 1996.