When school lets out, millions of low-income children lose access to the school breakfasts, lunches and afterschool snacks and meals they receive during the regular school year. The Summer Nutrition Programs help fill this gap by providing free meals and snacks to children who might otherwise go hungry.
The program is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and in each state through the department of education, agriculture, or health. To find out the agency that administers the program in your state, check USDA’s list of state administering agencies.
Summer Meals Action: March/April
Sponsors should use this time for meal planning. To improve meal quality and appeal, sponsors can consider incorporating local food into menus and surveying children and parents on their food preferences.
Learn more with FRAC’s Summer Nutrition Programs Implementation Calendar.
- The Summer Nutrition Programs include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program.
- During July 2017, the programs served 3 million children across the country.
- Only one in seven children who ate a free or reduced-price school lunch during the 2016-2017 school year were reached by the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2017
- In July 2017, summer breakfast reached just over half – 1.6 million – of those children who participated in summer lunch.
- Benefits of the Summer Nutrition ProgramsThe Summer Nutrition Programs provide free meals and snacks to children 18 and under at sites in low-income communities or that serve primarily low-income children. Most summer meal sites provide educational, enrichment or recreational activities that keep children learning, active and safe when school is not in session. These programs contribute to children’s healthy growth and development by providing them with nutritious meals and snacks over the summer months, a time when children can be more at risk for hunger and weight gain.
- How the Summer Nutrition Programs WorkTwo federal nutrition programs exist to feed children during the summer months – the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Local governments, school districts, and private nonprofits can sponsor summer meal sites, which may be located at schools, parks, recreation centers, housing complexes, Indian reservations, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, houses of worship, camps, summer school, and other places where children congregate. Sponsors receive a reimbursement for each eligible meal and snack served at meal sites. To learn more, visit the Summer Nutrition FAQ page.
- Strategies to Expand the Summer Nutrition ProgramsComprehensive outreach, improved public policies, and expanded partnerships with national, state, and local stakeholders are key strategies to increasing participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs. Use these guides and resources, plus FRAC’s Summer Food Mapper, to successfully prepare, promote, and execute the Summer Nutrition Programs.
- Serving High Quality Summer Meals/Nutrition GuidelinesAll meals served through the Summer Nutrition Programs must meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines.
For Summer Food, they include all of the following:
- 1 serving of milk
- 2 servings of fruits and/or vegetables
- 1 serving of grains
- 1 serving of protein
A summer breakfast can be as simple as a muffin, watermelon slice and a carton of low-fat milk. Lunch can be as simple as vegetable pasta, a low-fat yogurt cup, watermelon and a carton of low-fat milk. The state child nutrition agency can provide summer sponsors with additional information about the nutrition guidelines and help them plan menus that meet the USDA requirements.
Still, there are opportunities to build upon the standards. When sites serve nutritious and appealing meals and snacks, it helps attract children and increases the likelihood that they consistently participate.
- Serving Summer Meals in Rural AreasThe Summer Nutrition Programs can fill the hunger gap that exists during summer break for millions of low-income children in rural communities. Pairing summer meals with summer programs addresses the loss in learning that too many low-income children experience over the summer months. Learn more in our fact sheet: Rural Hunger in America: Summer Meals.
- State Summer LegislationStates have passed a variety of types of legislation to increase summer meals participation, such as allocating funds to supplement the federal reimbursement that sponsors receive from USDA, and passing legislation that requires low-income schools provide meals during the summer months. Find out more.