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Computer Program Tracks Lunch Choices



  • Health


Grades 2-up

News Content

A new computer program enables parents to monitor kids school lunch choices.

Anticipation Guide

Invite students to tell about the ways in which scan-able or swipe-able cards touch their lives or the lives of family members. Write down the ideas that students share. For example, they might tell that they use a swipe- or scan-able card to pay for groceries at the store, to get money from a cash machine, to sign out books at the library, to buy movie tickets at the theater, to make phone calls from a pay phone When students have shared a bunch of ways in which swipe- or scan-able cards impact their lives, introduce this week's story that tells of another potential use for those cards.

News Words

Introduce the words in the News Word box on the students' printable page. Talk about their meanings. Then ask students to identify how many syllables each word has. (Internet - 3 syllables, allergies - 3, account - 2, program - 2, scanned - 1, obesity - 3)

Read the News

Click for a printable version of this week's news story Computer Program Tracks Lunch Choices.

Reading the News

You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

* Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

* Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

* Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

More Facts to Share

You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this week's news story.

  • The system that enables parents to dictate, and keep track of, foods their children buy in school was developed by Cybersoft Technologies of Houston.
  • "If parents want Johnny to eat chips one day a week, they can go in and make changes to allow him to buy a bag of chips on, say, Fridays," Terry Abbott, a spokesman for Houston Independent School District, told CNN.
  • Parents will be able to go online at any time to use a credit card to add cash to a child's lunch account or to make changes to any restrictions they posted.
  • The Cybersoft system can be used in many ways. In some schools students might scan or swipe an account card and money will be deducted from their account. In other schools students might punch a secret PIN (Personal Identification Number) into a machine and the total owed will be deducted from their account.
  • The system is being used in schools in Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Tennessee. Among the benefits those schools have noticed is that lunch lines move faster when there is no cash exchange involved.
  • School officials hope the new system will help them tackle the problem of childhood obesity. They hope it will also spark a conversation about proper nutrition.
  • The number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled in the past 20 years, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • 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, Erik Peterson, spokesman for the Washington-based School Nutrition Association, told CNN.

Comprehension Check

You might ask some of these questions after students read this week's news story:

Recalling Detail

  • In which community is the new computer system that monitors what students eat going to be installed? (in Houston, Texas)
  • What kinds of cafeteria foods might parents not want students to eat? (foods to which they are allergic; some parents might not want their children to eat sweets or chips at school)
  • When will the new program start in Houston? (it will begin this summer)
  • In how many schools in all will the program be used? (305)

Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the New question that appears on the students' news page. Many nutrition experts say that students must be given the information needed to help them make healthful choices on their own. Karen Cullen, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told CNN that the new computer program is good only if it sparks communication between parents and their children about healthy food choices. "Kids need to be able to make healthy choices," Cullen said. "Parents can't be in charge. Children need some freedom."

You might talk about this question too:

  • One school official said that the new computer program enables school cafeteria workers to "be the eyes and ears of parents." What did that person mean?

Follow-Up Activities

Math. Create some grade-appropriate word problems for your students to solve. For example, if you teach young children you might pose a questions such as If your school lunch card has $10 on it, how much will it have after you pay $2 for today's lunch? If you teach intermediate-grade students you might pose a few questions such as If your school lunch card has $35 on account, how much will be left after you pay $2.50 for lunch and $.75 for a bag of chips?

Nutrition. Pose this question to students: If your parents were to prevent you from buying chips and sweets, what more healthful snacks might you substitute for those things? Create a list of healthful alternatives to the foods parents might declare off limits.

More Math. Pose this question to students: How many of you think your parents would use the new computer system to limit the things you buy in the school cafeteria? Create a simple bar graph to show the results of the vote. Then have students share a copy of this news story with their parents. After their parents read the story, students will survey a parent to learn if she or he would be likely to use the system to limit the child's purchases? How do the results of the two surveys compare? Did students correctly predict their parent's response?


Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to one of the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

MATHEMATICS: Number and Operations
GRADES Pre-K - 2
NM-NUM.PK-2.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
GRADES 3 - 5
NM-NUM.3-5.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
GRADES 6 - 8
NM-NUM.6-8.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
GRADES 9 - 12
NM-NUM.9-12.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates

NPH-H.K-4.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
NPH-H.K-4.3 Reducing Health Risks
NPH-H.K-4.4 Health Influences
GRADES 5 - 8
NPH-H.5-8.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
NPH-H.5-8.3 Reducing Health Risks
NPH-H.5-8.4 Health Influences
GRADES 9 - 12
NPH-H.9-12.1 Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
NPH-H.9-12.3 Reducing Health Risks
NPH-H.9-12.4 Health Influences

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.3 Technology Productivity Tools

See recent news stories in Education World's News Story of the Week Archive.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World