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Miami-Dade School Cafeterias Get High-Tech, Healthy Makeovers

MIAMI (CBS4) – When Miami-Dade students go back to school on Monday, some of them will notice their cafeterias have undergone high-tech, healthy makeovers and it's all about battling childhood obesity in South Florida.

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition installed a reimbursable meal vending machine at Miami Beach Senior High on Friday.

It's one of 45 high schools and 10 middle schools that will receive the wireless and cashless vending machines that are scheduled to be installed throughout Miami-Dade County by October 2011.

The vending machines serve up healthy meal options made from local ingredients.

An estimated 17 percent of American kids ages 2 to 19 are obese, and the Miami-Dade County Health Department received almost $15 million in federal stimulus funds for obesity prevention through the Community Putting Prevention to Work program. Some of the grant money is being used to install the Star Food Healthy Express vending machines.

Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade County School Superintendent, said the focus is mainly on minority children.

"This is our response to pervasive obesity in America and right here in Miami-Dade, which unfortunately is hitting mostly minority children."

Students access the Star Food Healthy Express machines by typing in their student ID and birth date to receive a healthy meal of their choice that is ready in about 20 seconds.

The machines don't take cash. Parents set up prepaid accounts that students can access from the vending machines to buy complete meals made that day. If the account is set up online, parents can get an itemized list of the foods purchased.

Although each student account is attached to a meal account, more than 50 percent of students in the district are on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's reimbursable meal program. The technology allows students not to be singled out in the cafeteria line.

In addition, the school has partnered with a variety of local celebrity chefs, including the Food Network's Michelle Bernstein, to offer quick healthy options. From Caribbean wraps to yogurt parfait – the most popular item for sale – more than 58,000 lunches have been sold through the machines during the trial period that ran from April until June.

School systems around the country have been using Star Food Healthy Express on a smaller scale for the last few school years, but Miami-Dade is the first to implement the machines district-wide. They are also the first to tie in local chefs with the program.

Each vending machine holds 90 meals at a time and is usually restocked once during a lunch period.

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