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On-Site Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

3 Tips For Engaging Teens In The Summer And In Afterschool Meal Programs

3 Tips For Engaging Teens In The Summer And In Afterschool Meal Programs

When it comes to the federally funded Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs, what is the trick to engaging teens better?

Across the country, both anti-hunger advocates and out-of-school time program providers are asking themselves this very question.

First, a refresher: The Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs provide funding to serve meals and snacks afterschool and during the summer months when school is not in session. Both a snack and supper can be served to children and teens up to age 18 at sites in low-income communities that offer educational and enrichment activities, such as schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, and Boys & Girls Clubs.

While great strides are being made across the country to implement best practices, build new partnerships, and promote summer and afterschool nutrition programs, more needs to be done to increase their reach — especially to teens. Below are some ideas to help you get started in creating more teen-friendly Summer and Afterschool Meal Programs.

1. Ask for feedback on meals and serve teen-friendly options.

An easy way to involve teens in the Summer and Afterschool Meal Programs is to ask for their input on the food being served. By including them in the planning process, they will feel more engaged and more likely to participate. Programs can survey teens on their likes/dislikes, or ask for feedback informally. After receiving their feedback, determine which menu changes your program can realistically make. For example, some YMCA meal programs have seen an increase in participation by adding a spice bar (allowing teens to easily customize their meals) or serving dupes of restaurant meals, such as burrito bowls.

2. Create opportunities for leadership.

Allowing teens to step up and have a leadership role in the meal programs is another way to engage them. If possible, train teens to be involved in meal service, or challenge them to create a marketing campaign to promote the availability of meals. This not only provides an important youth-development opportunity, but it can also help encourage younger kids to participate — when they see the teens whom they look up to eating and being involved, they are more likely to want to join the fun.

3. Think about messaging.

Stigma can be a large part as to why eligible participants do not want to receive a summer or afterschool meal. Teens are more aware of this feeling than younger children and more sensitive to being seen as “low-income” or “needy,” especially around peers. When talking about the meal programs, efforts should be made to promote meals as a resource for every participant. Making it a part of the normal program day and going to where teens are already congregating is the most effective way to reduce stigma.

Let us know — how do you successfully engage teens in your Summer and Afterschool Meal Programs?

The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has resources to help you learn more about the afterschool and summer nutrition programs, determine if your program is eligible, and identify successful strategies for implementing them. Learn more at

For breakfast, I had breakfast tacos with eggs and peppers.

Author: @clarissahayesfrac

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