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Strengthen Financial Management
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The meal reimbursements for summer and afterschool meals are the highest of all federal Child Nutrition Programs. What’s more, these programs are structured to allow area-eligible sites to serve meals free of charge to all children and get the same reimbursement for everyone. Making the most of these programs requires meeting operational demands, complying with federal regulations and leveraging all available resources.

Maximize reimbursement dollars with advance planning

Knowing how to create and manage a budget and work effectively with vendors can maximize your reimbursement dollars. Additionally, viewing your program through the lens of year-round planning will help you best achieve program efficiencies and economies of scale in both operations and purchasing. No Kid Hungry has several resources to aid this process, including: Proactive Planning for Summer Meals Sponsors, the No Kid Hungry Summer Meals Calculator and Best Practices for Working with Vendors.

Leverage or provide additional support

Federal start-up and expansion funds can help to offset additional costs for new or expanding sponsors. Applying for grants can also support promotional efforts, equipment and other one-time or occasional costs. You can subscribe to our newsletter to learn about potential grant opportunities. If you are applying for a grant, you can use the No Kid Hungry Tips for Completing a Grant Application to assist you. In addition, if you're in a position to provide grants to sites, you can increase their capacity to operate the programs or serve more children. You may find the Afterschool Meals Grant Application Template, Afterschool Meals Grant Report Template and Tips for Evaluating a Grant Application resources helpful in your efforts.

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Improve Program Quality
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Connect with activities or enhance programming, provide appealing meals that drive participation, and build site capacity with training and technical assistance.

Connect with activities or enhance programming

While not required for summer meals sites, providing programming can draw more kids and keep them coming back throughout the summer. Parents attach greater value to meal programs that also provide a safe, fun environment where their children can participate in educational programming or recreational activities. Sponsors who operate summer meals programs are encouraged to reach out directly to program providers to offer meals at their sites. This allows each community partner to focus on his or her area of expertise.

Educational or enrichment programming is a required element for afterschool meals programs, though it can be as easy as tutoring or crafts. While simple, low-barrier activities can be useful in areas where there is a need for meals but limited capacity for programming, offering high-quality enrichment can promote participation and retention. Since the sponsor or site does not have to provide the enrichment programming, this is an excellent area for partnership. Connecting with state or local afterschool programming networks, like the Afterschool Alliance, or with long-standing program providers, like the YMCA, can help you to identify additional resources to support afterschool programming.

You can also extend your efforts by leveraging volunteers, like local high school students fulfilling community service requirements or more permanent volunteers like AmeriCorps or VISTA members.

Provide appealing meals that drive participation

Meal quality is a major factor in whether or not kids choose to participate in summer and afterschool meals programs. In fact, an afterschool meals pilot project at several sites surveyed kids to find out why they chose to participate or why they chose to skip the meal. About a third of kids said that they got a meal because the food looked good, while 36 percent said that they would prefer to find other food elsewhere.

Knowing your audience is crucial to providing quality meals since quality can be defined very differently by different people. Survey participants or offer taste tests to get a sense of what they like, from specific foods to preparation styles. Engaging them in the decision also makes them more likely accept the outcome. 

Knowing your own capacity and site's capacity is also important. Providing simple meals that align with your skills and equipment is often better than trying to provide meals that you, your vendor, or your sites do not have the capability to adequately prepare, hold, and serve. Or, look for ways to increase your capacity, whether through culinary training, partnerships, or grants to support equipment purchases.

Packaging is often just as important as the food itself. Consider how the packaging could better preserve the quality of the food or be made more visually appealing – including clear packaging that shows off the quality food inside.

Optimizing Summer and Afterschool Meal Service provides tips and resources to optimize the quality and presentation of meals in order to build buy-in among potential sites, increase participation, and minimize food waste. Strategies to Reduce Food Waste in Schools & Child Nutrition Programs offers additional ideas for increasing consumption and cutting down on wasted food.

Build site capacity with training and technical assistance

Taking the time to ensure that sites have the resources and support needed to be successful will increase participation and ease expansion efforts in the future. By cultivating a culture of compliance and making the right thing the easy thing to do, sponsors ultimately save time on monitoring and corrective action, freeing up resources for further expansion. Good relationships built on a proactive approach to managing problems also helps with site retention so that gains are not lost.

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Promote and Expand Access to Meals
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Conduct effective outreach to kids and families, address needs for transportation or mobile meals, and expand availability and awareness with partnerships.

Conduct effective outreach to kids and families

Ensuring that children and families know when and where to find meals is crucial to achieving high participation. Doing this effectively requires both a message that resonates with your audience and putting that message in the right place. The tips and resources in our summer meals and afterschool meals outreach sections will help you to do both.

Address needs for transportation or mobile meals

Transportation is a common barrier to ensuring children have access to summer meals. Children and families must have regular access to meal sites, and meals must be delivered to these locations safely and efficiently. These common solutions are employed to make sure children are able to access meals where they live, learn and play:

  • Meals are packed in coolers or hot boxes and delivered from a central kitchen to community sites in vans or other personal vehicles.
  • Meals are sent or shipped to a central location (a "hub"), and sites pick up meals from there, known as a hub-and-spoke model.
  • Children are transported to meal sites using fixed-route or demand-response public transportation networks that serve locations where meals are served.
  • Buses or trailers are retrofitted to provide meals and activities directly onsite at multiple locations within the community, commonly known as mobile meals.

Interest has grown steadily in using mobile meals during the summer. Although mobile meals is a less common strategy for afterschool meals, some concepts and resources are transferrable. For example, in warmer climates, a mobile meals strategy may work well as long as the need for supervision and enrichment programming can also be met. Or, the buses or vans used during the summer may be employed to deliver meals to afterschool programs during the school year. Likewise, the hub-and-spoke model of delivery can be just as useful for remote areas during the school year as during the summer. Finally, transportation is still an important consideration during the school year. Working with state, local and school transportation officials can help you to secure transportation to and from your afterschool sites.

Expand availability and awareness with partnerships 

Both summer and afterschool meals programs require numerous areas of strength for overall success: capacity to prepare and distribute meals, access to convenient and safe locations that children and families trust, and ability to manage finances and administration, plus enrichment programming, transportation, and outreach and communications. Fortunately, it is not necessary for any one organization to possess all of these strengths. By working with partners and leveraging community assets, greater growth and success is possible than when each organization works alone. Collaborative planning provides a framework for achieving this success. A collaborative planning approach can be used for summer and afterschool meals sponsor councils and other groups specifically devoted to these programs. Collaborative planning to support these programs can also be integrated into other state and local coalitions and task forces on topics like hunger and food insecurity, food systems, youth development, and summer and afterschool programming.