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Watching What They Eat Online

By Sarah Klein

With the kids at home over the summer, you could keep a close eye on what they were eating. If you have the time to make lunches for them to take to school, you can still have some say over their diet while they are out of the house. But as moms constantly juggle overloaded agendas, sometimes packing a brown bag just doesn’t make it to the top of the list.

Now there’s a tech-savvy way to check up on what they’re eating in the cafeteria with just a click of a mouse. Online monitoring systems like MealPay.com and LunchPrepay.com allow parents to keep track of money spent and purchases made by their children at school. Three schools in Georgia became the first in the country to test out MealPay.com in 2005. Since then, both sites have been gaining in popularity.

LunchPrepay.com currently works with schools in 14 states. Parents can credit money to their child or children’s accounts; if they have multiple children in a school, specific amounts can be allotted to each child. Purchases are logged in 90-day increments, giving parents a glimpse at the bigger picture of their children’s eating habits.

Of course, the actual choosing of foods is still up to the child. But if you notice too many days of ice cream sandwiches and french fries, you can intervene with a little nutrition talk rather than wonder where the money goes each day. Plus, older children that understand the healthy choices you expect them to make may think twice when they realize they can no longer sneak that soda.

The electronic account also eliminates the need to send children to school with cash, which can easily fall out of pockets or be left in the classroom on the way to the cafeteria. You can enable e-mail reminders to warn you when funds in your child’s account are getting low. And they can always pay in cash should they run out, with purchases still logged online.

If your child’s school does not yet participate in such a system, ask school officials to consider getting involved. Monitoring school lunches won’t work for everyone but, with as many as 30% of children overweight, if it provides even a few children with better knowledge of nutrition and healthy eating choices, that’s a step in the right direction.

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