Summer Food Service Programs Succeed with Fitness

July 12, 2012

by Lizzy Parker, HSC intern

Last month, we shared how the USDA works to ensure that children receive the proper nutrition beyond the school year. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) aims to provide access to healthy food during the summer months, when children don’t have access to school meals.Today, we’re spotlighting summer food programs that help make sure kids not only have a nutritious meal but also a chance to be physically active.

Like in many towns across the U.S., childhood obesity is a serious issue in Greenville, Mississippi. The district’s summer food program aims to eradicate this by focusing not only on food but also on healthy physical activity. The program provides kids with “how-to instructions in a variety of sports activities [so students will] learn how exercise can build and promote a healthy body with an emphasis on eating balanced meals every day.” The result has been a successful shift in attitude, according to the USDA:

The impact of the physical activities and the nutrition education classes helped influence the children’s eating habits. After learning that good eating habits promote healthier bodies, the children ate more fruits and vegetables, which promises more energy for physical activities. By utilizing several practical methods and techniques for lifelong changes, the children in this community now have a more positive outlook and a healthier body so they can become productive citizens for tomorrow.

The Greenville Public School District is only one of many schools that are utilizing the federally funded SFSP. Over the past few years, SFSP has reliably distributed meals to children in communities all over the U.S. Often the program sites — which are located at schools, parks, or other public spaces in each community—are accompanied by some form of educational or physical activity. The combination of good, nutritious food with mental and physical stimulation aims to preserve kids’ fitness and mental engagement over the summer months while helping build lifelong healthy habits. As well as a time of fun and rest, summer becomes a chance for children to prepare for a strong start to the upcoming school year.

It is estimated that only about 14 percent of the children who participate in lunch programs during the school year take advantage of summer food programs. It is an ongoing challenge for many communities to expand engagement in their summer food programs and ensure that children have access to healthy meals in the summer. Incorporating physical activity at the sites helps boost attendance and ensure that kids get a good meal – site managers report that sports and games offer an extra appeals to kids. Bottom line: providing healthy physical activity along with nutritious meals helps ensure that children have a chance to be healthy and active while school is out.

To find summer food programs in your community, call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE.

Plus: Watch USDA’s video on the Summer Food Service Program and promoting physical activity.

Learn about the different aspects of Summer Food Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Options here.