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Federal summer nutrition programs are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by a designated agency in each state. Most program providers choose to serve meals using the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which is available to schools and qualifying nonprofits. This section of the website will focus exclusively on the SFSP.

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Who Is Eligible to Receive Free Meals?
young girl sitting outside at a picnic table grabbing her hamburger about it eat it

The following are eligible to receive free meals:

•    All children 18 years of age or younger who come to an approved open site or to an eligible closed enrolled site may receive meals.
•    At camps, only children eligible for free and reduced-price meals may receive SFSP meals. Please note that 'camp' denotes a specific type of summer meals site, as defined by the USDA.
•    People over age 18 enrolled in school programs for persons with disabilities may receive meals.

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How Many Reimbursable Meals Can Be Served?
man giving young girl a meal in front of a truck that reads "Lunch is on us"

Key details about meals eligible for federal funding.

Most sponsors may be approved to receive reimbursement for up to two meals per day. Eligible meals are breakfast, lunch, snack (morning and/or evening), and supper. The only combination not eligible for reimbursement is lunch and supper. If your site primarily serves migrant children, or if you run a residential or day camp, you may be eligible to serve up to three reimbursable meals each day.

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Five Ways to Participate in the Program
Two youth center employees hanging a sign outside their building that reads "Free Meals For Youth"

Explore opportunities to get involved and identify which one is the best fit for you or your organization.

  • Be a Sponsor: Make an investment in the children in your community. If your organization already provides services to the community and has capable staff, good management practices, and the ability to run or contract for food service operations, you can administer the SFSP.
  • Host a Site: Some organizations do not have the financial or administrative ability to run the program, but they can supervise food service for children as a site. Meal sites are most successful when paired with enrichment programming.
  • Be a Vendor: Organizations with kitchens and food service staff – including schools, commercial companies, and public or private nonprofit institutions – can participate in the SFSP as vendors. Instead of administering or supervising a meal service site, vendors sell prepared meals under an agreement or contract with an approved SFSP sponsor.
  • Volunteer: Even if your organization cannot take on the responsibilities of a sponsor or a site, you can team up with a sponsor to provide outreach materials to educate families about the program and help lead fun summer activities that encourage participation.
  • Provide Activities: One of the best ways to encourage children to participate in summer meals is to ensure there are onsite activities. If your organization is in a position to provide enrichment or physical activity programming at an existing meals site, or can introduce meals at locations where activities already occur, reach out to a local program sponsor to find out how you can best collaborate to keep kids engaged and well-fed all summer long.
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Who Can Sponsor the Summer Food Service Program?
kids going through a cafeteria line to get their meals

Sponsors must be organizations fully capable of managing a food service program. To be a sponsor, you must follow federal and state regulations, and you must accept financial and administrative responsibility for running your program.

Which types of organizations are eligible to become SFSP sponsors?

  • Public or private nonprofit schools
  • Units of local, municipal, county, tribal, or state government
  • Private nonprofit organizations
  • Public or private nonprofit camps
  • Public or private nonprofit universities or colleges
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What Is a Site?
parked van with print on it's side says "Free Meals Here"

A site is the physical location, approved by the state agency, where program meals are served during a supervised time period. Sponsors may serve meals at one or more sites.

There are four types of meal sites:

  • Open: Provides all children with meals at no charge on a drop-in basis; no registration is required. At least half the children in the area must be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, or the physical location is deemed ‘area-eligible’ based on census tract or block group data.
  • Enrolled: Provides all children with meals at no charge, though advance enrollment is required. At least half the children in the area must be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, or half of the children enrolled in an activity program are determined to be income-eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
  • Camp: Offers regularly scheduled meal service as part of a residential or day camp program. Only income-eligible children may receive meals at no charge.
  • Migrant: Primarily serves children of migrant workers. All children at migrant sites receive meals free of charge.

Meal service sites may be located in a variety of settings, including schools, recreation centers, playgrounds, parks, churches, community centers, libraries, day camps, residential summer camps, housing projects, migrant centers, or on Indian reservations.

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How are SFSP Meals Prepared?
cafeteria worker putting meals into a cooler so they can be transported

A sponsor may prepare its own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or contract for meals with a food vendor.

If your site has its own kitchen, you may want to prepare meals yourself. If your kitchen is not on the premises, you may still want to prepare your own meals and then transport them to the site. Meals you prepare yourself receive a slightly higher rate of reimbursement. However, many government and private nonprofit sponsors lack the kitchen facilities to prepare meals themselves. In this case, you may arrange to purchase meals from a school, local hospital, or another public or private food vendor with approved meal preparation facilities.

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Learn More about Summer Meals
young girl at a picnic table outside enjoying her milk as part of her summer meal

Looking for even more information about summer meals? You've come to the right place.

For additional information and guidance around summer meals, visit the USDA's Summer Food Service Program landing page. The following resources may be particularly useful: