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Staying on Track



As the father of a 6-year-old, James Chapman knows how hard it can be to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. 
But Chapman was curious whether children in school would eat fruits and vegetables served to them in the cafeteria, so he paid a visit to his daughter’s school. On that day, the kids were served a sandwich, a side of carrots and peas and dessert.
The kids ate the sandwich. Ditto for the dessert.
The carrots and peas mostly ended up in the trash.
With schools preparing to implement new U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards that include serving more fruits and vegetables, schools are looking at ways to get students to eat the healthy produce.
And Chapman thinks he knows the secret for getting youngsters to do so: Incentivize them. 
Chapman is the creator of the Kids Food Journal, an innovative online program that allows children to track their daily food intake to ensure they are getting the proper servings of fruits, vegetables, dairy, water and whole grains. If they eat healthy consistently, they earn points that eventually can yield fun prizes or activities.
“The problem is going to be encouraging these kids to really eat and eat healthy,” Chapman says. “I’m hoping that the next time the students receive the carrots and peas, they’ll track it and receive an award.”
A pilot of the Kids Food Journal is scheduled to be launched April 1 in six elementary school classrooms in Union County, Fla. Should it prove a success, Chapman is hoping to expand it nationwide, and even to other countries.
The program works like this: Students track their daily food intake using an online journal system. As they meet nutritional requirements such as their full servings of vegetables, they earn a “smiley star.” Students also can earn additional points for trying new food that they haven’t eaten before.
As the students gather enough smiley stars, they earn badges, which teachers and schools then use to reward the students.
In Union County, the students’ badges help earn them “Tiger Bucks,” a similar incentive-based system already in place. If students earn enough Tiger Bucks, at the end of the semester they get to go to a special campus party.
A paper version is available for students who don’t have regular access to the Internet, Chapman says.
Chapman also is working to build in a system that allows parents to adjust the nutritional requirements to fit their child’s individual needs. So, if a student doesn’t eat meat or is lactose intolerant, he or she can still earn smiley stars and badges.
As the program expands, Chapman hopes to introduce new point systems for exercise, allowing students to track how much they’ve walked or how many push-ups and sit-ups they’ve done. 
Although the program is still in its infancy, Chapman is confident it will work because of the success he’s had trying it out with his daughter, Chloe. 
“With Chloe, we look at everything she’s eaten and tracked, and everything she hasn’t finished for the day, she finishes at dinner,” he says. “It seems to be working… I’m assuming most of the other kids will be able to do that, too.”