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New technology addresses school lunch

Technology is everywhere in schools, but one would think the cafeteria would be a fairly low-tech place. Think again.

With all the controversy over soda in schools, lack of funding for school lunch programs, and an epidemic in childhood obesity, new tools are coming on the market to help schools deal with some of these problems, reports eSchool News.

Here are a few of the new innovations happening in the lunch line.

  • Biometrics. A student presses a finger into a scanner, which verifies the student's identity, thus creating a cashless transaction. This process streamlines accounting proceedures in the back office, tracks free and reduced lunches and eliminates meal fraud.

    "There is a fairly strong push to use biometrics," explains Barry Sackin of SFNS, a school food-service consultant. "We're overcoming the concern about the idea of 'fingerprinting' a child. It's not a fingerprint scan in that way. The way the systems work is that they take an image of the finger and match it to key points of the finger's stored profile. It's done within a very closed universe."

  • Nutritional Analysis. New software which makes menu-planning and nutitional analysis easier - and Web-based tools such as MealpayPlus from Horizon Software International, an online prepayment tool for parents. MealpayPlus lets parents view online what choices their children make at breakfast and lunch.

    "Nutritional analysis software is playing an important role in helping school nutrition programs offer healthy school lunches," says Erik Peterson, director of public awareness for the School Nutrition Association. "The software also helps school nutrition professionals ensure that they are complying with federal nutrition guidelines on school meals."

  • Tracking Vending Machines. In an effort to encourage students to eat healhier, vending machines are tying into school's student databases. Students purchase a prepaid, reimbursable meal from a vending machine that can track purchases to prevent a student from buying two lunches on the same day.
  • Systems Integration. Software such as OneSource from Horizon Software manages a ranges of areas from warehousing and distribution to menu planning, nutrition analysis, and point-of-service sales. It also includes software modules that manage warehouses, delivery routes, shipping and receiving, stock transfers, physical inventories, perpetual inventories, production, asset management, personnel, and procurement.