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Mother designs health-focused board game for kids; introduces it at Colt Elementary

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — With smartphone apps, high-tech gadgets and other gizmos on the market, it might be an “old-fashioned” board game that gets kids up and moving in the name of fitness.

“I think it would be awesome for every family to own this game and play it on game nights,” said Colt Elementary School physical education teacher Debby Johnson. “The kids loved it when they played it.”

The game, LunchBox Kids, is fun but definitely has an educational and health twist. The cool thing is the youth enjoy it so much, whether answering a question about amino acids or doing some push-ups, they might not even realize they’re learning and developing healthy habits.

“Kids’ brains are like sponges,” Johnson said. “They’ll soak up everything in that game.”

The inventor of the game, Elizabeth “Liz” Northcutt, introduced Johnson and the Colt Elementary student body to LunchBox Kids earlier in April. Northcutt stopped by the campus and held health seminars during physical education classes.

“Along with the game, she’s created these (charts) that show kids what’s healthy to eat and what’s really not,” Johnson said. Beyond just showing the chart, Northcutt brought several examples of food items on the chart to show the kids.

Northcutt said one of the things that sets her food chart apart from the typical ones available to educators, parents and children is she identifies foods kids actually eat. Instead of simply labeling food groups as “vegetables,” “protein” or “carbohydrates,” Northcutt lists kid favorites such as bananas, oatmeal, chicken nuggets, pizza, popcorn, cookies and doughnuts. Then, she rates those on her food-scale chart based on the highest nutritional value — medium to high — the lowest nutritional value or no nutritional value.

This way, children can rank the food they actually eat based on the chart. There’s also a work-out chart.

But the heart of the project is the actual board game.

The object of the game is to earn “Healthy Golden Lunch Tickets.” The number of needed tickets to win, say four, determines how long the game lasts. Fewer tickets cuts down the time needed to finish so teachers and parents can tailor it for their needs.

Northcutt explained that players (using “food” dice and the game pieces) earn tickets by landing on certain spaces and even answering health/fitness questions. But, players also can lose tickets.

When she was developing the game, Northcutt held numerous events to allow children and adults to play it. What amazed her was the youth enjoyed answering the questions and even became excited about landing on spots where they would have to draw a trivia card.

The game also offers places where all the players get up and exercise. Again, Northcutt heard lots of positive feedback from children during the testing phase.

“The kids really had a part in creating this game,” she said.

Northcutt plans a full release of the game in the fall. She’s been working on it since 2007.

Northcutt and her husband, Bryan Northcutt, a Marble Falls High School graduate, have always focused on health and fitness.

As a mother, Northcutt wondered how she could get her children and other kids excited about healthy eating and living.

During a park trip with her family in 2007, Northcutt was jogging while her husband was with their children. While she exercised, the idea of the board game struck.

Upon arriving at the playground, she pitched it to her young daughter, Hailey, who was playing on the monkey bars. The youngster told her mother it was a great idea and even told her what to name it.

“Call it ‘Lunch Box,’” the younger Northcutt said.

Liz Northcutt didn’t waste any time creating the game. She raced to a store, purchased some poster board and designed the initial layout. Northcutt faced several starts and stops along the way — after all, she’s a mother, wife and business owner. On Aug. 17, 2011, she took delivery of 10 game prototypes.

And looking at the prototype boards, Northcutt said the design didn’t change much from the initial poster board.

She and her husband did adapt the name a bit to LunchBox Kids at the recommendation of a patent lawyer.

“But mostly, it’s the same game that I believe God gave me that day I was running,” she said.

She began developing it (each of the characters on the board comes from a family member) and testing it. This included holding numerous game-play events at which, over the years, thousands of children and many adults (including teachers) played LunchBox Kids and offered feedback. Time and time again, the players raved about the game.

“Ninety-nine-point-ninety-nine percent of the kids who played it loved it,” Northcutt said.

But it wasn’t just the kids. Adults also gravitated toward the game. During one game-play event, Northcutt had set up other activities for the adults while the youth played the game, but when she looked up at one point, the parents had gotten involved as well.

The game has even caught the attention of P.E. teachers and other educators. In June 2012, Northcutt attended a Klein Independent School District teacher development workshop. During the event, long-time P.E. teacher Shawn McNeill tried the game.

The next thing Northcutt knew, she was leading a workshop on the game for more than 100 teachers.

“I flipped from (showing it to) kids to adults, and I didn’t know how they would react,” Northcutt said. “They loved it.”

In Marble Falls, Johnson said many of the game’s questions fall in line with the state’s health and science curriculum, so it serves as a learning tool as well. She’s even incorporating the trivia questions into her daily P.E. classes.

“The kids just love the trivia questions,” Johnson said. “I don’t think they even realize they’re learning.”

Which is something Northcutt had hoped for in creating the game.

“I have always wondered, ‘How can I get (kids) interested in health and fitness and have fun?’” she said. “I believe this game is something kids, families and schools can use to help get kids healthy.”

Johnson agreed, and not just in principle. She’s already set aside some of her budget to purchase LunchBox Kids games for the Colt Elementary campus.

For more information or to pre-order the game, go to www.playlunchboxkids.com.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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