Two Kent schools go online with lunch

Erica Crist

When students at Stanton Middle School and Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent came back from summer vacation last fall, there were new point-of-sale computerized systems in their cafeterias.

But what students didn’t know is these new computers would keep a record of everything they were eating.

Since January, parents of students at these schools have been able to access a Web site to see just what food items their children are buying in the cafeteria.

“If you give a kid 30 bucks for lunch, you would like to know that they’ve actually used it for lunch,” said Roger Sidoti, principal of Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Each student punches an assigned PIN into a key pad, he said. A cashier uses a touch screen to add food selections and access that account. Students or parents can deposit money.

“The part I like about it the most is my kids who have free or reduced-price lunches are not stigmatized,” Sidoti said. “They type in their number and no one knows who those kids are.”

This system also gives parents a better view of their child’s nutritional habits, said Tim Dortch, principal of Stanton Middle School.

“Prior to this system, the parents had virtually no clue what students were eating or how much,” Dortch said. “This new system has a real value to parents who want to be health-conscious and open up more dialogue with their children about food choices.”

Both principals agreed parents should be aware of their children’s diets.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a survey done by the National Center for Health Statistics in 1999 found 14 percent of children ages 12 to 19 were overweight, and during the past 20 years the percentage of overweight adolescents has almost tripled. Countless studies have determined that overweight children and preteens are more likely to become overweight and obese adolescents and adults.

Students at Theodore Roosevelt High School have the largest variety of food to choose from in relation to the other schools. This year the cafeteria features a salad bar, more vegetarian choices, a burrito bar, made-to-order deli sandwiches, burgers and stir-fry — in addition to the federal-regulated Type A lunches.

“I buy lunch here every day to set an example,” Sidoti said.

According to national school lunch regulations from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Type A lunch that Sidoti eats with students every day was designed to meet one-third to one-half of the minimum daily nutritional requirements of a student with at least 825 calories per school week. Schools are reimbursed for a part of the cost of food purchased and used in the preparation of these lunches.

So far this year at Theodore Roosevelt High School, the number of students who bought the healthy Type A lunch, 440, is nearly equal to the number of students who bought a la carte items such as fries, ice cream or cookies, 470, said Pat McMullen, food service director for Kent City Schools. The top-selling item is a cookie and the top-selling entr‚e is the made-to-order sub line, McMullen said.

As for beverages, Theodore Roosevelt High School got rid of its pop machines about four years ago, Sidoti said.

“We don’t sell any pop during the school day, except diet to the teachers,” he said. “Water and Powerade machines are available, but overall we are trying to reduce the number of empty calories that our students are consuming at school.”

In addition to viewing school lunch accounts online, both principals said parents should teach their children healthy eating habits at home too.

“The parents and schools need to help kids understand the value in making healthy eating selections, not just by discussing it but by modeling it too,” Dortch said. “It is something of great importance and we should implement these habits early on.”

Contact public affairs reporter Erica Crist at [email protected].