Even though there might still be traces of snow on the ground in your state, now is the perfect time for youth-serving programs to start thinking about expanding access to and participation in Summer Nutrition Programs.
The Summer Nutrition Programs — which include the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) — fill the nutrition gap for low-income children who rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year. The programs also support summer programs and help draw children into activities that keep them learning, engaged, active, and safe during school vacation.
Despite their many benefits, the Summer Nutrition Programs remain underutilized. Only 1 in 7 children who ate a free or reduced-price school lunch during the 2015–2016 school year were reached by the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2016.
Whether you are new to summer meals or a seasoned veteran, there are steps every program and community can take to ensure more children have access this year. Here are three easy steps to get started today on building a summer nutrition program:
- Connect with anti-hunger partners. Anti-hunger organizations and the administering child nutrition agency in your state are great resources for getting started with serving meals. They can connect you to meal providers in your area already serving meals and help you work out the best way to incorporate meals into programs. They can also help you increase program awareness or reduce any barriers to participation. Find your anti-hunger organization here and state agency here.
- Build Partnerships. One of the best things about the Summer Nutrition Programs is their power to bring together community partners from every sector and background. When thinking about new partners to collaborate with, consider reaching out to libraries, schools, health departments, city agencies, museums, parks, and other similar groups in your community. Many of these groups are invested in children’s health and increasing access to summer programs. They can help with additional activities, promote meal service, and offer additional support.
- Promote the Programs. One of the major barriers to participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs is lack of awareness. Many families do not know that the meal programs exist, or where to find them. By promoting the programs now, families will know where meal sites are and when they begin service by the time summer begins. Partners serving meals should create a plan for getting information out to families, such as distributing flyers, promoting site finders, and working with schools on mailings. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Everyone has a role to play in connecting students to nutritious, healthy meals all year long. The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has resources to help you learn more about the Summer Nutrition Programs and best practices for implementing them. Learn more at FRAC.org.
How will you connect more children to meals in your community this summer?
For breakfast, I had toast with almond butter and a banana.