As the school year draws to a close, many program operators that help keep our nation’s children nourished and active are just ramping up. When school is out, many school districts and an array of nonprofit partners step up to offer healthy summer meals through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option. Options that provide children who rely on free and reduced price meals access to the nutrition they need to return to school healthy and ready to learn.
With the warm summer sunshine and the sweet taste of the season’s bounty here, it’s a great time to reflect upon some best practices for a flourishing summer meals program. We’re highlighting three examples that emphasize replicable strategies for bringing local, nutritious foods and educational activities to children throughout the long summer break.
Build Purchasing Power
In Washington, three school districts collaborated to purchase local products. Along with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and local farmers, Auburn, Kent, and Renton School Districts worked together as the South King County Farm to School Collaborative. Last winter, the collaborative successfully completed forward contracts with local farms to purchase six different summer produce items for SFSP. As a result, the farmers grew snow peas, yellow squash, zucchini, cucumber, radishes, and strawberries expressly for these districts. And South King County children enjoyed the local bounty to recharge between fun summer activities! [This project was made possible with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.]
Maintain School/Community Gardens
Engaging kids and teens with hands-on activities can boost participation and create a fun, safe learning environment while school is out. Sponsors also benefit from using existing garden plots for enriching activities, which can serve as an important source of produce and herbs. Marion City School District in Ohio has employed creative strategies to ensure their community garden boxes are abuzz with activity just when they’re most productive. Families are also encouraged to adopt and maintain a garden box of their own. And to support this, master gardeners visit at meal time to offer free gardening lessons for families while kids enjoy a healthy meal.
Tap into Local Funding Streams and Support
Summer programs are all about partnerships, and identifying opportunities through organizations that support child nutrition issues often pays off for SFSP sponsors. Nonprofit anti-hunger and food security organizations End Hunger Connecticut! and Project Bread in Massachusetts provided mini grants to support SFSP meals and activities. Sponsors in these states have obtained small monetary awards to improve program operations, including helping cover the costs associated with the procurement, processing, or preparation of fresh local products. In some instance, they also run related activities like taste tests, cooking demonstrations, or garden-based lessons.
All three strategies demonstrate how sponsors can tap into local foods and activities that improve summer meals, bolster farm to school efforts, build healthy habits, and support local and regional food systems all year long. While summer meals are still fresh on your mind, be sure to check out our Farm to Summer fact sheet, as well as the Supporting Local Farmers section of the Summer Meals Toolkit for other great tips. Here’s to a healthy summer 2015!
USDA’s SFSP addresses hunger by ensuring that children 18 years of age and under receive nutritious meals and snacks when school is out.