Some schools in the Houston area have implemented software in their cafeterias that allows parents to intervene on their children's food selections.

A recent study published in the Journal of School Health showed that many parents were not taking advantage of the software; however, Dr. Karen Cullen of the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine suggests it could provide a learning opportunity for school children.

Learning tool

"Parents can use this as an opportunity to talk with their children about healthy lunch choices," said Cullen, one of the authors of the study. "Parents could use this as a teaching tool and encourage children to select the reimbursable meal, and discourage them from purchasing extra food items."

The point-of-sale software systems were designed for many different uses, Cullen said, including keeping track of students' food allergies and setting spending limitations for kids.

Parents can also set food restrictions, such as specifying that their children cannot purchase chips or ice cream.

Broaden conversation

Cullen said that when parents use the POS system to place restrictions on what their children may buy in the lunchroom, they should take the opportunity to talk to their children directly as well.

For example, they can use it as a chance to talk about the new USDA MyPlate food guide that emphasizes fruit, vegetable, grains, protein and dairy food groups.

Some school districts, said Cullen, let parents go online to see exactly what their child is purchasing in the cafeteria, depending on the software the school has implemented in its cafeteria.

Different schools use various types of POS software in their cafeterias, so parents are encouraged to find out what capabilities their school provides in order to efficiently use the service.

Others involved in this research include Emily Andrepont of Cypress-Fairbanks ISD and Dr. Wendell Taylor of University of Texas School of Public Health.