This could be a common occurrence at Houston schools when the district, Texas's seventh-largest with more than 250,000 students, becomes one of the largest in the nation with a cafeteria automation system that lets parents dictate and track what their kids get.
Primero Food Service Solutions, developed by Houston-based Cybersoft Technologies, allows parents to set up prepaid lunch accounts so children don't have to carry money. It also shows the cashier any food allergies or parent-set diet restrictions for his or her account, and the student is not allowed to buy an offending item.
Parents also can go online to track their child's eating habits and make changes. The company's system already is being used in schools in Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan and Tennessee, as well as other Texas cities. Several other companies have similar cafeteria monitoring programs at other schools.
Prepaid cafeteria accounts have been around for five to 10 years, but programs that allow parents to say what their kids can or can't eat are a more recent development. It's good for parents because they can track what their kids are spending. The system, which will cost the Houston district US$5.3 million, also serves as an accounting program that lets the school district plan menus and allows for faster enrollment of students in free and reduced lunch programs. School officials and nutrition experts say this type of monitoring program could help tackle child obesity. In the past 20 years, the number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled and the number of overweight adolescents ages 12 to 19 more than tripled, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.