Purpose: This study examines the social and cultural life of food innovations to inform food design thinking. The authors explore this through wellness regulating functional foods, foods scientifically modified for health benefits based on medical and nutritional claims, as a materialisation of food innovation in the marketplace. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on affordance theory, where affordance relations enable potential for consumer food well-being regulation, the authors gathered in-depth interview data from diverse consumer groups across three illustrative exemplar functional foods. Findings: The research reveals how consumers engage in meaningful actions with functional foods in the experiences of their everyday lives. Four analytical themes emerge for consumer wellness regulation through functional foods: morality judgements, emotional consequences, social embedding and historicality. Originality: Analytical themes emerging from the findings are conceptualised as MESH, a useful acronym for the social and cultural life of food innovations within the design thinking arena. The MESH framework includes dichotomous cultural affordances that overlap and entangle different cultural themes weaving together consumers' perceived possibilities for food well-being regulation. These cultural affordances reveal distinct paths that link consumer experiences and food design thinking.