Marana schools to offer virtual cafeteria - Tucson Local Media: Import

Marana schools to offer virtual cafeteria

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Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 11:00 pm

August 23, 2006 - Fourteen-year-old Francisco Sepulveda wants to get healthy, strong and fit.

"I want to make sure that what I'm eating is healthy," the Marana Middle School eighth-grader said, though he admits he does not always tell his parents the truth about what he eats at lunch.

The Marana Unified School District on Sept. 1 will launch a new food services Web site, which will allow parents to track what their children order at school cafeterias.

The site will allow parents to manage student lunch accounts online, adding money, checking balances and reviewing transaction histories for the previous 30 days. The district hopes the site will mean less check and cash transactions in its cafeterias.

About 9,100 of the district's more than 13,000 students have school lunch accounts. The majority pays by cash or check in the lunch line, especially in high school where about 90 percent of students pay with cash.

"Our goal is to get more parents to deposit money online," said MUSD Food Service Director James Remete, an employee of Aramark, the company the district hired to provide school lunches.

"It speeds up the service, the lunch lines move along much faster and kids have more time to eat and be with their friends."

To entice parents, the district will offer a free lunch for every $25 paid online.

The site - - eventually will feature interactive menus and a "virtual cafeteria" where kids and parents can plan in advance what to order, based on nutritional information.

The Web site developers have chosen MUSD as their pilot district, making it the first to use the site.

"I think it will be good for parents, too, so they'll know what's going on," Francisco admitted after eating pizza for lunch on a recent Friday.

Each Marana student with a lunch account has an identification number. That number stays with each student from kindergarten to high school. A student chooses an entr�e and side item, as well as milk or juice. Students pay more for extra entrees.

The district serves breakfast in all of its schools, except Tortolita Middle.

Elementary school menus differ from middle and high school menus, which offer pizza and burritos on a regular basis. Elementary students this month have eaten beef ravioli, chicken nuggets, corndogs, macaroni and cheese and meatloaf.

The district no longer offers fried foods, sodas or candy.

The NutriKids Web site aims to attract students as well as parents with links to a variety of educational games and nutritional data presented in an easy-to-read layout.

Still, the main goal remains to move toward a cashless district, something that probably will never happen, Remete said, citing one example of a mother who writes a check for each lunch her child eats.

Still, the more parents pay online, the more smoothly things will operate in the district's cafeterias, Marana Middle School Cafeteria Manager Alethea Harry said.

Harry has a son and daughter across the street at Estes Elementary School, who always tell her what they had for lunch.

"They come home and tell me, 'I ate this' or 'I only ate this and I'm hungry,'" Harry said, adding that she will use the site and interactive menus to better organize what her children will eat on which days.

"It will definitely give parents more control."

One of the site's features will allow parents to determine how much money their children can spend on a given lunch. If a parent wants only $3 spent, the system will not allow the student to spend a cent more.

"There are still a lot of school districts that use the cash register and punch cards," Remete said. "But, it's definitely a different culture than 10 years ago."

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