Time: 30 minutes


The challenge a family faces in figuring out how to eat healthfully is like figuring out a complicated puzzle. The pieces that need to be put together include: determining what foods to eat, what foods to avoid, and coming up with a strategy -- one that fits family time and budget constraints -- for purchasing and preparing foods and cleaning up after meals. Part of the key to resolving this puzzle is having family members function as a "team" and work cooperatively to solve problems.


In this exercise, family members work together on a simple puzzle-building task. After the puzzles are completed, participants are encouraged to reflect upon how lessons learned can be applied to their challenges at home in terms of resolving problems or differences of opinion on food-related issues.


General Objectives

  • Participants will exercise problem solving skills and reflect on the value of cooperation for solving food-related problems.

Specific Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  • Distinguish cooperative problem solving from other forms of problem solving.
  • Gain an appreciation of the value of cooperation and teamwork for solving problems and accomplishing tasks.
  • Describe 1-3 lessons learned from participating in a team-building exercise.
  • Apply lessons learned from a team-building exercise to family situations.


  • Flip chart
  • Puzzle templates. Make enough copies of the chosen template(s) so that each family gets one puzzle. If possible, make color copies.
  • A pair of scissors (to cut the puzzle pieces).

Handout 3-1 (1): Family Food Puzzle


  1. Place families into separate groups (one family per group).
  2. Give each family a set of puzzle pieces, with the simple instruction that every family member should participate in the task of putting the puzzles together.
  3. When the puzzles are completed, have all participants come together for a large group discussion. To launch the discussion of the experience, the facilitator should ask: "What happened during the process?" and encourage the team to relate this experience to their family experiences. To encourage reflection about group process, the facilitator/observer might ask the following:
    • How did participants function? E.g., Did they act cooperatively or competitively with one another?
    • Did people withdraw when unable to get their way? If so, how did it affect the rest of the team?
    • Did dominant individuals emerge, or did everyone seem to participate equally?
    • Was there agreement in deciding how to go about doing the puzzle? If there was any disagreement, how did you resolve it?
    • Was there teamwork in actually putting the puzzle together?
    • Did anyone detect evidence of frustration? If yes, how did such behavior affect the group?
    • What was the critical turning point(s) affecting the teams working together?
    Another set of questions could focus on the task itself: What were the strategies families used to solve their puzzles? [For example, one family might have started with the edges/frame first, whereas another family might have begun by grouping pieces with similar color or pattern together.]

    Other observations?

  4. Reinforce key points: Have the entire team develop a set of learning points, which can be recorded on a flipchart. Learning points might include the following:
    • Participation and cooperation by all members of a team are essential to attain team and individual goals.
    • It is hard to solve group problems when there is no communication.
    • Problem solving requires that team members keep an open mind to a variety of potential solutions.
  5. Encourage participants to apply this learning experience to their family experiences at home. For example, ask: What are some ways your families can use teamwork at home when it comes to finding ways to eat more healthfully?
  6. Ask the group to list 1-2 simple cooperative problem solving techniques that can be used when deciding on collaborative food menus and determining food preparation methods.


To make the puzzle-building task a bit more challenging, you could ask the family members to do the puzzle in silence and request that they all participate. You could also put a time limit on it to add extra pressure.

Believe it or not, you will likely find some families will not be able to do it, not because they can't put a puzzle together, but because no real leader emerges, they don't have a strategy, etc. These are all important things to have for successful meal planning and implementation.

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging