New Web Site Monitors Kids' Food Choices in School Cafeteria

Kids may want to think twice before purchasing french fries and an ice cream cone in the school cafeteria. Mom and Dad might be watching.

A new technology allows parents in 29 states to monitor what their children are eating at school.

Ben Hooks, CEO of Education Management Systems Inc. (EMS), a K-12 administrative software company headquartered in Wilmington, N.C., said that about half of North Carolina's schools use the monitoring system.

Other states with schools using the system include Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.

For $10, Moore County Schools, one of the North Carolina school systems involved in the food-and-cash monitoring program, lets parents access their child's food choices and expenses. The program allows parents to view their child's 45-day purchase history and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on Web site http://www.lunchprepay.com.

Rosie Hansen, who has three children in the North Carolina school system, thinks the program is a great idea.

"It's always a concern of mine," said Hansen about her children's food choices.

"Kids tend to think they can make healthy decisions," she added. "But when it comes to food, they're going to eat what they want to eat, especially when Mom and Dad aren't around."

Amanda Cagle, child nutrition director for Moore County Schools, said the schools first did a trial run of lunchprepay.com in January. After receiving feedback from parents and working out the kinks in the system, she said the school brought its cafeteria to a new level.

"We want parents to be involved in their children's education experience," said Cagle. "We don't want to be the ones to monitor or tell their children what to do."

Managing Child Obesity

Now, the Moore County Schools' 22 cafeterias are linked on one server, where all transactions are recorded, monitored and available for viewing once parents register in the system.

Cagle said the purpose of incorporating the new program into the cafeteria system is to manage student expenses more effectively, while promoting and monitoring child nutrition. Child obesity remains a concern in North Carolina and throughout the rest of the country.

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, over the past three decades, child obesity has more than doubled for preschool children from 2 to 5 years old and adolescents from 12 to 19 years old. For children ages 6 to 11, obesity has more than tripled.

Cagle said the new technology is a step in the right direction to help children make healthy decisions.

She said some students eat breakfast at home and then buy a second breakfast at school. Although there is no way the school would know if the child ate a previous meal, with the Web site, parents can be in the loop by monitoring what kids eat and when.

"It lets parents know where their money is going," said Cagle.

The system also allows parents to set up an account with an allotted amount of money for each child.

Making Healthy Food Choices

Tirzah and Angelina Hansen, who both attend Manteo High School in Manteo, N.C., said they wouldn't mind having their parents keep track of their cafeteria purchases.

Tirzah, a junior, said, "I think it's more important for parents with children in elementary and middle school, because that's when the majority of their bodies develop."

She admitted to buying the occasional ice cream sandwich at school but said she does it in moderation and tries to make healthy food decisions.

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