Summer meals are lunches provided to students at little or no cost during the summer break. This program increases access to food throughout summer months for students who rely on school meals. The summer food program operates similarly to the school lunch program and school breakfast program, with schools receiving reimbursement from the federal government for eligible foods. Summer food programs can be located at schools or community agencies such as libraries, faith-based organizations, or community centers. There are federal requirements about what types of food will be reimbursed and who can receive free or reduced-price meals.
Many variations of this model exist. Some schools connect with other rural schools in the area and set up a mobile summer food truck. Communities can also partner with food banks to help implement the program. Each state has a designated agency (usually the state agriculture or education department) with different requirements for operating the program.
This model requires accurate recordkeeping, relationships with area food banks and community partners, and skills in outreach and marketing. Weather and transportation to the food site are consistently cited as barriers to participation, and programs should consider these factors when choosing a location. All program workers must be trained on proper food handling and storage to prevent illness.
This model specifically targets children 18 years old and younger. Adults frequently accompany children to the meal sites; however, their meal is not federally reimbursable. Meal sites should create a protocol for feeding adults at their site.
Resources to Learn More
Resource to help food service professionals design and implement summer nutrition programs. Includes examples of different models and tips for increasing participation rates.
Organization(s): No Kid Hungry, School Nutrition Association, National Watermelon Promotion Board
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) Program Guidance
Detailed guidebooks for developing, implementing, and operating the USDA's Summer Food Service Program.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service
Summer Meal Site Finder
Interactive map to help locate operating summer meal sites.
Organization(s): American School Health Association, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Nutrition Program Social Impact Analysis
Analysis of the social impact summer meal programs have on children and their communities.
Author(s): Orovecz, K., Pincus, E., Todd, N., & Welch, M.
Organization(s): No Kid Hungry
We Serve Summer Meals
Series of videos describing various summer meal programs and delivery methods.
Organization(s): US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services