Program Innovation

No Kid Hungry’s Program Innovation team designs strategies that meet the needs of families facing economic insecurity and works to improve the user experience of federal nutrition programs. 

School Meals Design Guide

This online guide features ready-to-use activities and tools for food and nutrition teams to make meal programs more student-centered.  It adapts the principles and tools of human-centered design for the school food context.

School Meals Design Guide

Visit our School Meals Design Guide website to access tools that school food and nutrition teams can use to make meal programs more student-centered.

Improving the User Experience of Federal Nutrition Programs

Explore strategies for improving the participant experience of federal nutrition programs.

Innovations in WIC

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federal nutrition program that provides low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant women, postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5 with healthy food and nutrition education. Yet, only 3 out of 5 eligible people participate in the program and participation drops significantly after a child turns one. Explore strategies for improving the WIC participant experience in order to overcome barriers to participation in the program.

WIC Online Grocery Ordering: A Click & Collect Model

For WIC participants, COVID-19 added additional barriers to an already challenging shopping experience. For WIC agencies, WIC vendors, and other stakeholders interested in improving access to WIC foods, this infographic describes a model for online grocery ordering that meets current federal regulations and makes it easier for program participants to redeem WIC benefits, during COVID-19 and beyond. We provide recommendations and identify issues to consider for those interested in implementing a similar model.

Infographic produced by the University of Tennessee, Department of Nutrition and No Kid Hungry. For more information, contact Betsy Anderson Steeves at or Elyse Kovalsky at

This infographic was funded by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Click & Collect pilot study was funded by No Kid Hungry.

This infographic is also available in Spanish. 

Innovations in WIC Clinic Redesign

WIC agencies and experts identify an improved clinic experience as an essential lever for increasing participation in the program. This innovation brief highlights learnings from two pilot projects that sought to improve the WIC clinic experience for women, children and families by redesigning their WIC clinic spaces.

WIC Online Ordering in Practice: Learnings and Next Steps

While efforts are underway to develop online transaction models for WIC, currently allowable online ordering options with in-person transaction and pick-up have expanded in recent years, spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic. This report summarizes learnings and observations based on these early online ordering efforts (occurring in 2020–2021), to support a better understanding of the current state of WIC online ordering, build on early lessons learned, and identify potential next steps to grow and improve these nascent offerings. It is intended as a resource to WIC state and local agencies, WIC authorized vendors and other stakeholders interested in supporting WIC online ordering options in their communities and increasing access to these options.

Adult and Community Meals

Adult Meals: Eating Together Can Make All the Difference

Many caregivers value time spent eating together as a family.  But, child nutrition programs like the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) can make it hard for families to do so. When it comes to summer meals, this means that some families are forced to choose between eating what they have left at home together or going to a summer meal site where only the kids will get a meal. Meriden Food and Nutrition Services had a hunch that being able to eat together would make a difference for the kids that they serve and for their summer meals program.

Community Meals: A New Model to Reach Kids in the Summertime

Each year schools, nonprofits, and community centers seek new opportunities to provide much-needed summer nutrition to kids under the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). While many sponsors work actively to add new summer meals sites and increase meals served, the number of summer meals served nationwide continues to decline. The impact of this decline in service can be felt especially hard in rural America. To increase the number of sites and summer meal participation, No Kid Hungry (NKH) ran an innovation test in summer 2018 in which families served as site supervisors, managing new sites.

Summer Meal Program Innovations

The Summer Food Service Program provides free meals to kids in low-income areas when school is not in session. Yet, accessing these programs can be difficult for families. Explore strategies for making participation in these programs more desirable and more accessible.

Turning Homes and Yards into Summer Meal Sites

For families to access summer meal sites, it is important that their transportation needs be front of mind. Prairie Family Center, a nonprofit in a small town in Colorado, had to get creative to increase the accessibility of their sites. Knowing that many families could not make the trip to and from town to their one summer meal site located at a school, they turned to the community itself, asking residents to open up their homes and yards as summer meal sites. While it seemed like the approach might work, placing summer meal sites in homes and yards was a radical shift from serving meals in the school cafeteria.

How to Put Kids in Control at Summer Meal Sites 

Food is more exciting when you play an active role in its creation. Common Threads Farms (CTF) theorized that there had to be a way to do this through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Borrowing from their background as nutrition educators, they created a summer meals program with a unique twist: rather than be the passive recipients of food served, each day kids would learn about nutrition, new foods, and basic kitchen skills, and then have the chance to practice what they learned by preparing their own summer meals. When mealtime was over, program staff would join kids outside for fun and games.

Innovative New Programs Serving Children and Their Families
Learn about pilot programs that center the needs of families experiencing economic insecurity. 

No Kid Hungry City Innovation Fellowship

In 2022, we launched the “No Kid Hungry City Innovation Fellowship.” This 18-month program brings leaders from diverse backgrounds into city innovation teams and community-focused organizations. Their mission? To creatively address food insecurity. The fellows use a human-centered design process to bring new voices to the table, develop bottom-up solutions, and pilot new approaches to addressing food insecurity. To learn more, watch the video below and access the case study.

Porch Visits

Porch Visits pairs meal delivery with home visits to holistically meet families’ needs.  Pilot partners in VA, WA, and CO forged innovative partnerships with community organizations to provide families with food and meals; wi-fi installation; assistance with enrollment in programs like Medicaid, WIC, and SNAP; tutoring for kids; and more.  A trusted community member visited families every week, alleviating feelings of isolation and overwhelm that have been particularly difficult during Covid-19.

Cumberland PATH: A Pilot Program to Increase Fruit & Vegetable Access in Rural Virginia

This case study of the Cumberland PATH fruit and vegetable benefit program highlights lessons learned and opportunities for organizations and other leaders interested in increasing access to fruits and vegetables in their communities. It provides an in-depth look at a Produce Prescription-style program, operating in a rural community without a robust healthcare infrastructure. The program partnered with community-based organizations and leveraged existing assets to increase access to fruits and vegetables for children and adults in the community. 

Weekend Meals: Identifying New Ways to Provide Meals Seven Days a Week

The national summer meals program is a lifeline for children in need, but most summer sites are only open Monday to Friday. For children that look to this program for support, this means that Saturdays and Sundays can be the toughest days of the week. Feeding Tampa Bay (FTB), a food bank located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, theorized that weekend meals could be a game-changer.

Promising Practices For Starting & Maintaining A School Food Pantry:

School pantries are another resource beyond school meals to support students and families who are experiencing food insecurity. School food pantries are helpful in combination with federal nutrition programs like school meals, SNAP and WIC for ensuring students and their families have consistent access to food. There are a number of consideration that need to be made regarding launching and maintaining a pantry, with decisions centered around best serving those in need. Our Promising Practices for Starting & Maintaining a School Food Pantry resource highlights promising practices in creating and maintaining a school food pantry for students and families experiencing food insecurity. The resources details types of school pantry setups and food distribution methods; includes a checklist for starting a food pantry; spotlights from the field; and more.

Reports on Innovation in the Field

Schools, nonprofits, community-based organizations, and others are constantly developing and testing new ideas to reach more kids with healthy food and improve their programs.  Read about the innovative work meal providers across the country are doing and be inspired to implement your own programs.

Collaborative Design Tools for Food Pantries

Collaborative Design Tools for Food Pantries contains guidance on how to work with communities to improve their experience at food pantries.

These design tools were adapted through a collaborative design (co-design) process at the Harvest on Vine Food Pantry in Boston. Co-design is a participatory approach to designing solutions. All stakeholders are treated as equal collaborators: it’s about designing with, not for. The aim of this work is not only to understand preferences, strengths, and needs of pantry visitors and engage them in the design of better experiences. It also creates a community space that supports dignity and connection and reduces the stigma that can be associated with accessing the charitable food system.

Innovations In Child Nutrition Programs During COVID-19 And Beyond

When the pandemic forced schools to close this past spring, everything changed. Many meal providers found themselves rapidly adapting their operations to reach kids in their communities. In some instances, these new models and programs really worked, sometimes better than before. This report showcases their most creative tactics, illustrated by case studies that were informed by interviews. Innovative ideas fell broadly into five categories: innovations in meals served, outreach, delivery, partnership, and innovations beyond food. 

Feeding Kids During COVID-19: A Survey Of Organizations Serving Kids

In May 2020, No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices distributed a survey to organizations serving food to kids in the context of COVID-19 school closures. Schools and other community organizations shared details about how they are serving meals and other food to families, the worries that are keeping them up at night, the children they fear they are not reaching, and the innovative strategies that are working well for them right now. Their responses provide insight into the challenges confronting organizations serving kids as they embark on the next school year.

2019 Hunger Innovation Report

Despite a myriad of federal nutrition programs and an army of dedicated organizations and individuals working to minimize its impact, hunger persists. Innovative efforts to tackle childhood hunger have been successful at connecting kids with food. But we need to continue to identify new strategies and approaches to ensure that every kid has the food they need to thrive. That is why we launched a national survey aimed at understanding how stakeholders are testing and implementing new strategies for addressing child hunger. This report summarizes what we learned.

Understanding the Gap in Participation in Summer Meals Programs

In 2019, free summer meals were available from more than 1,300 locations in New York City.  However, participation in these programs remains strikingly low, as is the case nationwide. While survey research has documented that many low-income families do not take advantage of summer meals programs, there has been little in-depth qualitative work exploring why. In 2019, No Kid Hungry partnered with The Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University to begin to address that question.  Drawing on in-depth focus groups with families from neighborhoods with high levels of food insecurity, this study provides insight into their summertime nutritional needs, as well as how summer meal programs might be more responsive to those needs.