No one wants to take food away from a child, but school districts across New Jersey are faced with that decision on a daily basis.

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In the past, bringing lunch money to school was the only option for purchasing a meal. But in recent years, most schools have implemented point-of-sale accounts for students that eliminate the need to bring money into school every single day.

A parent can send in a check for $50 or replenish the account online, and once a special identification number is entered in the cafeteria, the lunch purchase goes through.

It's convenient, yes, but it also ups the odds of families falling behind on school lunch payments.

Districts can handle school lunch debt however they please, but a law signed by Gov. Chris Christie in February allows districts to refuse lunch to children whose payments are behind. Parents or guardians, though, must receive fair warning - at least two notices that offer families about two-and-a-half weeks to catch up.

Sal Valenza, president of the New Jersey School Nutrition Association, said while children shouldn't be the ones punished when payments fall behind, the current economy does not allow districts to let the debt continue to grow.

"The important part through all of this is that there's communication between the school and the parent, so that the parent knows when the account gets low," Valenza said, noting many times, parents simply forget to replenish a child's account.

Just in case it's a matter of a family who's strapped for cash, Valenza noted many districts send applications for free or reduced-price meals along with the payment notices.

Dino Flammia is a field reporter for New Jersey 101.5 news. Contact him at

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