When schools close for summer break, the door on good nutrition might also shut for the 2 million California children who rely on free and reduced meals at school but miss out on USDA's Summer Food Service Program. Missing out on healthy meals and milk over the summer months could negatively impact children's health and put them at an academic disadvantage come fall, noted the Dairy Council of California. Summer breakfasts and lunches provide food from all five food groups for all kids and teens 18 and under.
In Sacramento and San Bernardino counties, the council has worked in community partnerships, called summer meals collaboratives, focused on increasing summer meal locations and participation. Sites that provide engagement activities such as STEM or literacy programs tend to have higher participation throughout the summer months. Thanks to widespread community outreach led by local schools and activity-based programs such as Lunch at the Library, meal participation during summer 2017 increased 15% in Sacramento County and more than doubled in San Bernardino County, the Dairy Council of California said.
"When it comes to kids and teens, having something to do can be even more appealing than something to eat," said Alyson Foote, registered dietitian nutritionist, project manager for the Sacramento, Calif.-based organization. "That's why we are working with community organizations, nonprofits, schools, libraries and more to provide fun activities and free promotional resources for summer meals to keep healthy eating on the menu for all California children 18 and under this summer."
Local summer meals collaboratives present a great opportunity to network and share resources from chefs, local farmers, nutritionists and public health educators, said Vince Caguin, director of nutrition services and warehousing at Natomas Unified School District and founding member of the Sacramento Summer Meals Collaborative.
“It is truly building a program for the community by the community," he said.
Everyone can get involved to open windows of opportunity to keep activities and healthy meals on the menu for California's children this summer. Schools are a trusted source of information for parents. The council is urging schools to consider adding summer meals information to school websites, sending home information with students and scheduling updates on social channels such as Facebook and Twitter to keep parents and students informed — before school is over for the year.
School foodservice departments could also consider adding summer meals information on menu backs. Sample newsletter text, social media posts and more are available at FuelYourSummer.org, a free toolkit created by the Sacramento Summer Meals Collaborative led by United Way California Capital Region.