Here’s what’s being done to feed students when school is out of session:
Free meals are handed out in locations with high concentrations of low-income children. These meals have met federal nutritional guidelines and aim to be as healthy as possible. One sample menu showed carrots, fruit cups, sandwiches, and cereal & milk as options. The days of piling on the tater tots are long gone.
United States Department of Agriculture now runs the program, called Seamless Summer Option. In previous years the Department of Education was in control. This year, the number of sites has grown. Any child under 18 years old is eligible for these free meals, regardless if they are enrolled in summer school or not and whether they are in or out of district. Parents are invited to eat with their children at a very low cost, approximately $3 per meal.
This is an inaugural program for some schools around the country, while others have been doing similar initiatives for decades. The percentage of kids taking advantage of the free meals is lower than expected in some areas, and surpassing expectations in others. Whether some students have trouble getting to the meal locations due to not having school bus transportation—or they just don’t know about the program—is up for debate.
Some schools opt to include a breakfast snack with the lunch in order to make it easier to pick up the meal once, rather than twice. Others serve breakfast and lunch at separate designated times. And some schools even server dinner! The Summer Food Service Program (USDA) has made this all possible.
According to the USDA, approximately 21.4 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches on a typical school day. These same children are also receiving food through other means such as after-school programs.
This program is not funded by the USDA. Other organizations fund this initiative, such as Food4Kids Backpack program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Banks, etc. Students bring home a backpack with enough food to cover all weekend meals—two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners. This food does not need to be refrigerated or cooked—it’s shelf-stable and ready to consume.
Churches, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other community centers often have innovative summer food programs.
Also of note: revolutionary food related school programs—while school is in session!