Relying on Healthy School Food All Summer

June 29, 2010

By Cassie Yarbrough, HSC policy intern

School is out for the summer, and while children enjoy long, sunny days without class, many parents, caregivers, and educators worry that children will go hungry without access to a free or reduced-price lunch during the day. While nearly 19 million children depend on free and reduced-price school meals
for nine months out of the year, only 2.3 million children participate
in the Summer Food Service Program. 

As U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said on a recent trip to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, “Too many kids in our country go hungry over the summer months.” That's why countless schools throughout the country are providing free lunches to children under the age of 18 throughout the summer months. In Chicago, the Food Depository distributes food to more than 40 federally funded after-school Summer Food Service Program sites, providing Chicago’s children with healthy and nutritious meals even when school is not in session.

Utah’s Ogden School District takes summer food service one step further, providing free hot lunches during the work week at nine schools. Alicia Brisceno, a 13-year-old student of the Ogden School District, says, “It’s good food and it’s free. I think it’s good because a lot of parents work, and this is a good way for kids to get lunch every day.” The Ogden School District Program, as well as similar programs in 101,000 schools and day care facilities throughout the country, is federally funded under the same standards as regular school meals provided under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).

Last summer, 31.2 million children throughout the United States took advantage of summer lunches, and participation in these programs is expected to grow. The summer school lunch program under NSLP provides an excellent opportunity to continue to improve nutrition standards in federally subsidized meals.

Research shows that many young people develop unhealthy eating habits during the summer break and also suffer learning setbacks. For example, children can lose more than two months’ progress in reading achievement over the summer, and inactivity during the summer months can cause children to gain weight three times faster than during the school year. Michelle Obama and the Corporation for National and Community Service are launching the United We Serve: Let’s Read. Let’s Move. initiative to change that.

To learn more about the expanding opportunities to engage young people in summer reading and physical activity, and to learn more about increasing kids' access to healthy, affordable food in the summer, click here.