Published Online: November 29, 2005
Published in Print: November 30, 2005, as Virtual Cafeteria Worker Guides Student Food Choices

Health Update

Virtual Cafeteria Worker Guides Student Food Choices

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She is only an image on the Internet, but a blond, maternal-looking cafeteria worker named Cathy is helping children at a school district near Dallas make healthy nutrition choices.

"Cathy" greets visitors to the virtual cafeteria of a Texas school district.
—Courtesy of Winning Habits

Every day, parents and students in the 25,000-student Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Texas, school district can meet Cathy on the district’s Web site to quiz her about the nutritional value of the food choices for breakfast and lunch at each of the district’s 37 schools. Using a computer mouse, students or parents can move food items onto a virtual tray. Cathy, dressed in a pink blouse under a flowered blue apron, unabashedly gives her opinion about which choice is good and which is not. For instance, the selection of a sugar-laden cookie draws a “whoa,” a hamburger evokes a warning of “slow,” and a plate of healthier lo mein noodles elicits a “go.”

Cathy also instantly tallies up the total calories in the selected meal, as well as the amounts of protein, carbohydrates, cholesterol, and vitamins A and C. She even counts the calories in condiments.

Rachelle Fowler, the director of school nutrition for the Carollton-Farmers Branch district, said the Web site and Cathy were born out of the district’s efforts to find a way to communicate nutrition information to students in a user-friendly way.

“We wanted someone who would look like a person they would see when they came into the cafeteria,” she said. Ms. Fowler said the Web site has been a hit with both students and parents since it was launched on the first day of school, Aug. 15.

Vol. 25, Issue 13, Page 15

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