Get access

The Use of Point-of-Sale Machines in School Cafeterias as a Method of Parental Influence Over Child Lunch Food Choices


Karen W. Cullen, Associate Professor, (, Department of Pediatrics, USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, 1100 Bates Street, Houston, TX 77030-2600.


BACKGROUND: Computerized point-of-sale (POS) machine software that allows parents to place restrictions on their child's school meal accounts is available. Parents could restrict specific foods (eg, chips), identify specific days the child can purchase extra foods, or set monetary limits. This descriptive study examines the use of parental restrictions on student cafeteria POS accounts in a convenience sample of 2 school districts.

METHODS: POS alerts, with student gender, grade, ethnicity, and students' free or reduced-price meal eligibility, were obtained from 2 school food service departments for the 2007–2008 school year. The alerts were coded into 5 categories: financial, medical, restrictions, snacks OK, and extras OK. The distribution of alerts by district, students, and demographics was then tabulated.

RESULTS: District A (4839 students) had more students with alerts (n = 789, 16%) than District B (8510 students; n = 217, 2.6%), and 94 District A students had a second alert. District A parents had to provide written permission for their child to purchase snacks (n = 654, 13.5%) and extra meal items (n = 113, 2.3%). Most alerts were for full-pay students in both districts (74% and 66%) and varied by demographics of the students.

CONCLUSIONS: Few parents actually used this system to limit student purchases of foods outside the school meal. Future studies should investigate the influence of these restrictions on student food choices.