Based on a series of pilot studies run in schools serving afterschool meals in addition to interviews and site visits, some promising models and best practices have emerged.

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The Umbrella Model
graphic of an umbrella model, where the umbrella is afterschool meals, and the students underneath the umbrella are clubs, tutoring, band, and sports

This serving model has been shown to increase Afterschool Meals Program participation in middle and high schools by 50 percent.

The Umbrella Model is based on the USDA guidance that free afterschool meals can be offered and actively promoted to all children and teens, including student athletes, if enrichment programming is available to everyone. Under this model, meals are typically served in a central location within a school, like the cafeteria, such that everyone can participate regardless of where their activity takes place. While attendance records are required, schools do not need to track participation in activities, and children do not have to be enrolled in an afterschool program or even at the school. This model may also be expanded to community-based sponsors. For example, multiple afterschool programs could operate or begin in a central location, like a library or recreation center, with activities and meals available to all.

  • How It Works: Based on pilot testing, the Umbrella Model is most effective when the meal is served in a high-traffic location immediately after the final bell, ideally with at least fifteen to twenty minutes for children to eat before activities begin or buses leave. Delivering meals to large activity groups, like the band or football team, can also help to make serving more efficient for the rest of the student body. 
  • Promoting Afterschool Activities: For schools that do not feel comfortable opening the meal to students who are not specifically participating in a supervised activity, we have found that schools can increase participation by better promoting the meal to activity leaders and coaches. The USDA guidance on athletic programs provides reassurance to open up the afterschool meal or snack to sports teams.
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Supper in the Classroom
young boy eating a snack at his desk in school

Supper in the Classroom has the potential to dramatically expand Afterschool Meals in elementary schools.

Schools can serve afterschool meals in each classroom in order to significantly increase participation and ensure that kids who need the nutrition get the chance to eat. Based on pilot testing, Supper in the Classroom shows the potential to reach 80 percent of all students and lead to more afterschool meals served than lunches.

  • Classroom-Based: Since USDA guidance confirms that students do not have to eat in a central location, like the cafeteria, it is permissible to serve meals in each classroom after the final bell. An educational or enrichment activity is still required, but this can also be conducted in the classroom during the meal service. For schools that operate for at least one hour longer than required, the USDA memo on expanded learning time programs allows them to build the meal or snack into the end of the existing school day.
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Streamlining
inside of a state capital building with people standing in the distance and the American Flag up close

State agencies can help schools to effectively operate the Afterschool Meals Program by taking advantage of available flexibilities and streamlining options.

A November 2012 USDA memo provides numerous options that state agencies can use to streamline participation for school food authorities. These include minimizing required application information, eliminating additional training requirements, providing the option of using the NSLP meal pattern, combining procurement and contracts and streamlining monitoring.