A high-tech system to give parents greater control over the types of food their children order at canteens could be available in schools this year.
The payment system is linked to the pupils' mobile phones and an application that carries nutritional content of different food.
The account is topped up with credit to be used in school cafeterias, provided the food's content is within the pupil's limit.
If not, the payment is declined at the till and the app recommends a healthier alternative.
"For example, having Dh20 will not allow a child to buy a burger for Dh20 unless that child has sufficient calorie, carbs, protein, sugar, sodium and fat allowance left," said educational consultant Basel Shouly, of Regime Nutrition and Fitness Advisers
"That creates the necessity for an awareness of the true value of consumer products among generations that might otherwise overlook such qualities. The possibilities are endless and empowering to children and adults."
Development of the US$3 million (Dh11m) Smart Dirham project began in 2010 and it may be tested in schools this year if it wins government approval.
The system aims to help solve the increasing problem of childhood obesity.
It is hoped that by educating children about the content of food, they will be encouraged to make healthier choices.
"It is a novel economic model because we are making money smart, not only in a technological sense but because we give money a specific purpose by limiting its purchasing power," Mr Shouly said.
His daughter Marcelle, 10, attends Deira International School, one of those that could take part in the project's trial in September.
Mr Shouly said he had changed his own life for the better when he lost about 75 kilograms by monitoring the nutritional value of the food he was eating.
"I was shocked at the amount of calories I was eating, sometimes up to 15,000 a day," he said. "I had a heart attack at 30.
"The daily intake should be around 3,000 for an active man so it was a real eye-opener."
Mr Shouly, 41, and his partners at Regime have met officials from Dubai's education regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education to explore ways of moving ahead with the project.
They also hope to integrate the technology with smart watches and fitness bands.
Talks are also under way with several private schools to run a pilot programme. If it is a success, the scheme could be rolled out across the GCC.
The Centre for Strategic Healthcare Development in Dubai has said a survey of 4,000 schoolchildren in Arab countries aged between 6 and 16 found 25 per cent to be overweight or obese.
Teaching healthy behaviour to children at an early age has proved to be essential, as change becomes more difficult with age.
Maha Khan, 39, is an English language teacher at the British Council in Sharjah and Dubai, which promotes creative learning ideas from the UK.
Ms Khan wants her daughter Xeina, 13, who goes to Wesgreen International School in Sharjah, to be one of the first to try out the product.
"It think it is a great idea," she said. "Although my daughter has a healthy breakfast, I give her Dh10 a day to spend on food in school but I do not know what she is snacking on. I'm sure it is not 100 per cent healthy.
"This idea will help her to create good eating habits that she can take into adult life."
French nutritionist Magalie Paillard, who specialises in diet plans for people in Dubai, said information on the nutritional content of food was vital in maintaining a healthy weight.
"This idea would be a big step for schools and shows there is finally a level of understanding of the importance of nutrition," Ms Paillard said.
"A nutritious meal could be smoked salmon with avocado on rye bread and coconut yogurt. It may have more than 500 calories but it consists of good fats, fibre, protein and good saturated fat from coconut.
"It is much better than a Danish pastry with a cup of coffee, which may have a lot less calories but is void of nutrition."
Source: The national