School lunch debt: Districts taking to collection agencies, meal swap-outs to stave off unpaid bills

Americans are likely hearing from debt collectors more in recent years than in the past, but a practice that may become even more common: debt collecting for unpaid school lunches, the Huffington Post reports. A lot of school-aged kids are getting free lunches — not because they are backed by the government’s free and reduced-lunch program, but because parents haven’t been paying off lunch bills, forcing a number of districts to foot the cost. Already weighed down by budget cuts across education systems, districts can’t afford to take on yet another addition to climbing costs. As a result, several across the country have resorted to hiring debt collectors, employing constables and switching out regular meals for lesser versions in a push to get parents to pay up. As of last February, New York City schools had absorbed some $42 million in unpaid lunch fees since 2004, according to The New York Times. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina recently appropriated $40,000 to cover unpaid lunch fees, the Daily Tar Heel reports…

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Schools say ‘no way’ to Congress OK for pizza as vegetable

A week after Congress backtracked on some key components of landmark school nutrition legislation, nutrition advocates are saying that the battle for healthy school food needs to be fought district by district, along the lines of what several California districts are already doing, EdSource Extra reports. Last year, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which required school meals to have more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and less salt and fewer calories in an effort to combat childhood obesity and the early onset of diabetes in children. But last week a Senate and House conference committee, under pressure from some food industry lobbyists, blocked implementation of some of the new regulations…

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Students compete to design better lunches

Instead of pizza and hotdogs, high school students in six U.S. cities are trying to serve up healthier lunch options to their classmates as part of a national cooking contest, U.S News reports. Students in public high schools with vocational culinary programs in Chicago; Denver; Jacksonville, Fla.; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; and Winston-Salem, N.C., will compete to make the tastiest, healthiest lunch to serve their peers in the Cooking Up Change contest. The catch? The six-person teams can only spend about $1 per lunch and must order food from their school system’s food supplier…

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British TV chef in food fight with LA schools

British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has perfected his anti-obesity recipe over the years: blend a passion for nutrition with reality TV, garnish with a catchy moniker, et voila!–“Food Revolution.” But Oliver’s recipe has uncharacteristically curdled since he arrived in Los Angeles last fall to shoot his second U.S. TV series, the Associated Press reports. “I’ve had a tough time here,” he conceded wearily in an interview. “Nothing that was planned has come off.”

The six-episode show was to revolve around one of Oliver’s favorite causes–making school lunches healthier–but ran under a rolling pin when the Los Angeles Unified School District objected to the chef’s key ingredient–TV cameras…

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