For decades, it was one of the iconic images of childhood: the youngster dispatched to school with lunch money squirreled tightly in his or her pocket or backpack. But perhaps for not much longer: As inevitably as slide rules once gave way to calculators, school cafeterias are embracing technological change.
In recent months, the city of Chicago became one of the largest school districts to sign up for electronic payments. Beginning next year students in the Windy City won't have to remember their lunch money -- just a PIN or an ID card that's linked to an online account, where parents can choose to automatically refill low balances, set spending controls, and review what food their offspring purchased that same day. Chicago joins public schools in New York City; Fairfax County, Va.; Denver; and San Antonio, and others in the latest electronic trend.