Not all school lunch options are created equal. Schools have dietary and budgetary guidelines to go by, but giving students the freedom of choice in choosing what they eat is not something that the guidelines can always take into account. My junior high school, for example, sold churros for 50(cents) and you can bet that many students were eating those fried sticks of cinnamon and sugar goodness at least a few times a week. I highly doubt that whatever nutritional standards the “taco casserole” was made to even considered the possibility that the meal would be augmented with a churro and a bag of Doritos. Parents generally only thought about their kids’ school lunches when they were asked for money on the ride to school and had no control over what the kids purchased with that money. Fortunately for parents who worry about their child’s health and waistline more than they used to, this isn’t the case anymore.
New technology is allowing parents to apply the same controls they have over their child’s diet at school as they have at home, a welcome change for parents who worry about the dietary choices of children. The Houston School district is the largest in the country to have adopted a computerized tracking system that monitors what students can eat. A scanner at the register of the cafeteria rings up each item, either allowing or disallowing its purchase according to parent guidelines, known allergens or other dietary restrictions. Parents can even micromanage by making allowances for certain days of the week, so Susie can have a brownie on Tuesday and John can get that bag of chips on Fridays.
Changes can be made via a computerized system, accessible over the Internet, though parents without reliable Internet access can use the program by calling the school and working directly with the cafeteria staff, who will set up the account. Parents can even pay for the meals in advance. By setting up prepaid accounts, parents do not have to hand their children money at the beginning of the day, preventing them from giving in to the temptation of vending machine junk choices.
Programs like this will still allow the children to make some choices in their diets, but it will force them to look at healthier options and choose among them. Actively learning to make better choices while they are still in school will help combat obesity in the long run by setting students up to make good choices as they grow up.