Afterschool Meals

Connect kids with the nutrition they need after the school day ends.

Afterschool meal and snack programs provide kids with the nutrition they need to succeed during educational and enrichment programs after school and over the weekend.

No Kid Hungry is committed to supporting new and existing programs, increasing participation, and making meals available year-round.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
The CACFP provides funding to help offset the cost of providing healthy meals to infants, children, teens, and adults in a variety of care settings, including afterschool programs.

The At-Risk Afterschool Meals component of the CACFP, commonly known as the Afterschool Meals Program, allows educational or enrichment programs in eligible low-income areas to serve a free meal and/or snack each day to kids and teens ages 18 and under. Since the meal must be served after the bell on school days, the most common meal served through this program is supper. As a result, sometimes the program is known simply as "the supper program." However, as described in 365 Days of Service with Child Nutrition Programs, programs that operate on weekends, holidays, or other school breaks during the school year can provide any one meal as well as a snack. The Afterschool Meals Program does not provide reimbursements during summer break except in areas with a year-round school calendar. Most participating organizations can transition to one of the summer nutrition programs.

Each location participating in the Afterschool Meals Program must be within the attendance boundary of a public elementary, middle, or high school where at least half the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Learn more about area eligibility in Navigating Area Eligibility in Summer and Afterschool Meals. If the location qualifies, no enrollment or eligibility information is required from children or families, and meals and snacks are served for free. They are funded at the same level for all participants at the "free" reimbursement rate. Visit the USDA webpage to see the current funding levels.

Drop-in and enrolled enrichment programs are eligible to participate. Programs can be offered for free or may charge a reasonable fee for activities and supervision; however, the meals and snacks must be offered at no charge to children. 

The Afterschool Meals Program is open to schools, community-based non-profit organizations, and certain for-profit childcare providers. Programs may partner with another organization to provide educational or enrichment activities or leverage volunteers. Additionally, afterschool enrichment programs can work with other organizations known as sponsors to help administer the Afterschool Meals Program. 

How Afterschool Meals Reach Kids summarizes how the program works from Congress to kids. You can read the USDA’s At-Risk Afterschool Meals Handbook for additional information on operating the Afterschool Meals Program. If you want to begin offering afterschool meals or snacks at your afterschool program, listen to our webinar on getting started and review these FAQs -- both detail some easy next steps you can take. 

The Outside-School-Hours Care component of the CACFP is an option for afterschool programs that do not qualify as area-eligible based on the 50 percent free and reduced-price lunch eligibility threshold. However, meals are reimbursable only for children ages 12 and under. In addition, programs must collect enrollment and eligibility documentation, and meals are reimbursed according to each child’s eligibility status. Although Outside-School-Hours Care programs may not operate on weekends only, they can operate on weekends in addition to weekdays, and they are also eligible to serve up to two meals and one snack daily.

National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Snack Programs
The NSLP primarily provides funding for lunches served to students during the school day, but it can also fund snacks served after the final bell. 

The NSLP Area-Eligible Snack Program is most similar to the CACFP Afterschool Meals Program in that it makes snacks available free of charge to all kids, regardless of their school meal eligibility status, through afterschool educational or enrichment programs. Each location must qualify as area-eligible based on the  50 percent free and reduced-price lunch eligibility threshold. Unlike the CACFP Afterschool Meals Program, there is no option for a supper, and a two-component snack can only be served on days that school is in session.

The Afterschool Snack Program through the NSLP allows schools that do not meet the area-eligibility threshold to serve snacks. In this case, snacks are reimbursed according to each child’s eligibility status as determined through the school meal benefit application or direct certification.

Administration, History, and Trends
Although the CACFP and NSLP are both federally funded and have seen huge growth among afterschool programs, they look a little different, especially depending on the state.

Afterschool snacks through the CACFP and NSLP date back to the 1990s. The option for afterschool meals only became available through pilots in select states starting in 2000 and then nationwide in 2010. In recognition of the ten year anniversary of the Afterschool Meals Program as part of the CACFP, No Kid Hungry released a report, Celebrating Ten Years of Afterschool Meals: Looking Back and Looking Ahead. This report and companion micro-report details the history of the program, charts its growth, explores promising practices, and offers recommendations for its future.

Both the CACFP and NSLP are administered at the federal level by the USDA and in each state and territory by a designated agency. The designated agency may or may not be the same in each state. To learn more about how these programs and their afterschool components are run at the state level, read the Center for Best Practices report State Agency Administration of Afterschool Snack and Meal Programs. You can also visit the USDA website to find out which agencies house the CACFP and NSLP in your state. 

Read the overview Understanding Afterschool Snacks and Meals to learn more about the similarities and differences in requirements between these programs.

The Need and The Gap
Afterschool meals give kids the healthy fuel they need to learn, grow, and play after school, on weekends, and over holiday breaks. Many parents are concerned that their kids don't have nutritious foods after school, yet only a fraction of children currently have access to healthy afterschool meals and snacks. With the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and inflation on the rise, offering an extra meal after school is more important than ever.

With as many as one in eight children struggling with hunger, many families feel financially stretched providing nutritious food for their kids to eat after school. The CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program and NSLP Afterschool Snack Program allow educational and enrichment programs to provide kids with the nutrition they need to stay full and focused after the final bell rings.

Although afterschool snacks have been available since the late 1990s, the At-Risk Afterschool Meals component of the CACFP has only been available nationwide since December 2010. As described in Celebrating Ten Years of Afterschool Meals, the number of afterschool meals served through the CACFP grew by more than 600 percent between its first year of nationwide rollout and 2019. In FY 2019, there were more than 212 million afterschool meals served. There were also nearly 240 million afterschool snacks served through CACFP and NSLP.  

Despite enormous growth, there is still an incredible gap: for every one hundred school lunches provided to kids in need across the country, there were just 12 snacks or meals served. Program implementation varies widely from state to state in both overall reach and reliance on snacks over meals. In some states, there are just one or two afterschool suppers served for every thousand subsidized lunches, indicating a significant opportunity to reach more kids facing hunger. Schools, community centers, and other locations that offer afterschool programming as well as sponsoring organizations that can support nutrition programs are potential partners to help fill that gap.

Schools are ideal locations to host afterschool programs and serve meals.

Schools have the facilities, equipment, staff, and skills needed to prepare and serve food. With extracurricular activities already occurring at many schools, afterschool meals or snacks are a natural fit. If at least half of the students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, or if the school is within the attendance boundary of a public school that meets the threshold, then it can serve meals and/or snacks free of charge to children and teens.

Parents, advocates and educators can expand afterschool meals and snacks at schools by:

  • Contacting local school officials, such as the school nutrition director, principals, superintendent or school board members. These decision-makers can help you to understand what’s already happening, and you can educate them about the need for afterschool nutrition programs and their benefits for students and schools. This guide will help you to understand the best times during the year to approach school nutrition staff specifically. 
  • Reaching out to coaches and athletic directors. Although afterschool nutrition programs cannot operate for the sole benefit of competitive sports teams, USDA guidance states that athletes can participate as part of a broader afterschool program. Coaches and athletic directors are often among the strongest advocates for providing meals and snacks.
  • Encouraging schools to provide snacks and/or meals at eligible schools where there are already enrichment activities occurring.
  • Suggesting that schools organize tutoring, study hall, or other activities that will draw more students to stay after school and take advantage of the snack or meal.
  • Encouraging schools to sponsor or provide meals to other afterschool programs in the community.

The tools below can provide additional support to schools and school districts interested in adding the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program. You can contact your CACFP state agency to learn more about the program and the application process.

Community Afterschool Programs
Adding a meal or snack at an existing afterschool program is a win-win.

Numerous organizations provide educational or enrichment programs in safe trusted locations throughout the community. Common examples include the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations, libraries and recreation centers. Many of them may already serve snacks or meals but not realize that they can receive funding to help offset the cost. Others may not have the capacity to prepare meals but could serve food provided by another organization or vendor.

Families often turn to faith-based organizations and places of worship when they need assistance making ends meet. These organizations can play a crucial role in connecting children with meals when they’re not in school. If the organization or place of worship offers enrichment programming after school, on weekends, or over holiday breaks, it could be a candidate to offer meals or snacks. Religious instruction is a permissible enrichment activity as long as children are not required to participate in order to receive a meal or snack.

As with school sites, afterschool programs in the community must be located within the attendance boundary of a public school where at least half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals in order to provide meals and snacks free of charge to all children through the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program. Review this handout to see if serving meals through the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program "make cents" for your organization and then listen to this video and read these FAQs which detail the next steps on getting started. 

The Afterschool Alliance can help you to learn about afterschool activities and enrichment, connect with a network of afterschool program providers in your state, and identify programs in your area. The government clearinghouse can also help you to locate programs or find resources to support them.

Sponsoring Organizations
Sponsors play a critical role connecting kids to afterschool meals and snacks.

Some afterschool programs may not be ready or willing to take on the full responsibility of running an afterschool nutrition program. This could be due to a variety of factors, such as lack of staff capacity, experience with meal preparation, or familiarity with federal requirements. A sponsoring organization can help to alleviate many of these concerns, so connecting afterschool enrichment programs with sponsors is a great way to expand access.

  • If there are no organizations currently sponsoring afterschool programs, a great place to start is a CACFP sponsor with experience supporting child care centers. Although the requirements are slightly different, it is typically easy for existing CACFP sponsors to amend their contracts with the state agency and begin working with afterschool programs.
  • If there are no existing CACFP sponsors in the area with the capacity to add afterschool programs, recruiting local non-profits, government agencies, or school districts to become sponsors can provide needed support. Organizations that have operated the Summer Food Service Program, National School Lunch Program, or the School Breakfast Program understand how to run a federal nutrition program and oversee sites, so they are well positioned to make this transition.

Use this handout to show how serving suppers through the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program can "make cents" for sponsoring organizations.

Implementation Support
Building capacity and enhancing meal service operations yield benefits for sponsors, programs, and children alike. 

Strong and efficient organizations can serve more meals or support more sites; tastier meals can attract more kids to programs; effective and adequately funded programs can draw more kids to the meals and snacks; well-nourished kids can focus better on school and their extracurricular activities; and serving more meals leads to more funding to support sites and sponsors. 

There are many technical and financial resources available to help organizations start afterschool meals programs.

  • Food Service Resources: It may be a challenge to plan menus that meet requirements while appealing to kids and containing costs. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation developed the Smart Food Planner to help tackle that challenge. The website includes sample menus for afterschool meals. For schools and sponsors that obtain meals from a vendor or caterer, the challenge is identifying and securing a capable and affordable company while complying with procurement requirements. This handout can help you to think through your needs and provides ideas for finding a vendor. And regardless of how you obtain meals, No Kid Hungry’s Optimizing Summer and Afterschool Meal Service resource can help you to think of ways to improve meal quality and reduce food waste. 
  • Grant Opportunities and Resources: Subscribe to the Center for Best Practices' "What's New" newsletter to learn about potential grant opportunities. To improve your odds of writing a winning proposal, check out our tips for a successful grant application.
  • Providing Support: Offering small grants to help afterschool enrichment programs or sponsors to start or expand their meal program is an excellent way to increase access to afterschool nutrition programs. This sample grant application template and tips for evaluating applications will help you to implement an effective grant-giving process. This grant report template will help you to ensure that your funds are being used for their intended purpose and gather success stories.
Let Your Community Shape Your Program
Children and families are invaluable thought partners in designing afterschool meals programs. When families are brought in at every stage of program design and delivery – instead of a “top-down” approach that excludes community involvement – families are better able to access and are more excited about the meals served, and consequently, a greater number of children receive healthy and nutritious food.

Several resources are available to help program operators design inclusive afterschool meals programs:

  • Let Your Community Shape Your Program: The discussion questions and stories presented here are meant to serve as a resource for schools and nonprofit organizations looking to more meaningfully engage kids and their families in program design and delivery. Consider soliciting input from families and those working closest to families as you continue to discuss these questions and stories with your full team.
  • Conversation Starters for Designing More Inclusive School Meals Programs: These conversation starters can be used to guide conversations with school nutrition staff to a) identify barriers that students and their families may face in accessing school meals, and b) generate ideas for engaging students and families as partners in designing more equitable meals programs.
  • Designing a More Inclusive School Meals Program (webinar recording): This interactive workshop features school nutrition staff and community partners who work together to create inclusive school meals programs, specifically assessing and removing barriers students may face in accessing meals programs. The speakers provide insight into actionable items that school nutrition departments may implement in their own communities.
  • Designing a More Inclusive School Meals Program (webinar slides): Slides from the 4/7/21 workshop: Designing a More Inclusive School Meals Program

While some of these resources focus on school meals programs, many of the principles can be used for planning afterschool meals programs. 

Want to learn more about equity in child nutrition programs? Check out this webpage for equity spotlights, resources, toolkits, and more.

Afterschool Meals Outreach Toolkit

Check out our Afterschool Meals Outreach Toolkit!

Use the Afterschool Meals Outreach Toolkit to download outreach materials and identify strategies to spread the word about your afterschool meals program!

The toolkit includes sample language, ready-to-use graphics, as well as customizable templates for all types of outreach:

  • Social media graphics and template posts
  • Website blurbs and FAQs
  • Printable signs and flyers
  • Letters to caregivers
  • Press release templates
  • Faith-based outreach
  • And more!
School-Based Outreach
Schools are trusted sources of information, so leverage these opportunities to conduct outreach.

If a school offers an afterschool meal or snack, support the school in actively promoting it to students. If a school does not provide meals or snacks, then provide information about nearby programs that are open to students for the school to promote instead.

Schools can spread the word about afterschool snacks and meals through:

  • Direct outreach to parents, such as:
    • Robocalls
    • Newsletters
    • Website
    • Social media
    • Materials sent home with students, such as a postcard, letter or FAQ document on afterschool meals
    • Partnership with the parent-teacher association
  • Direct outreach to students, such as:
    • Morning or afternoon announcements
    • Posters in common areas
    • Postcards distributed in classrooms or left in lockers
    • Social media
Faith-Based Outreach
Many families look to their place of worship or faith community for information or support, making them excellent partners for outreach.

Faith-based organizations spread the word through:

  • Direct outreach to the congregation, such as:
    • Fliers or posters hung in common areas
    • Postcards in common areas that can be taken home
    • Newsletters or bulletin announcements
    • Website
  • Engagement with other local faith leaders, such as:
    • Sharing information about programs and inviting youth from other congregations to participate
    • Coordinating faith summits or gatherings to educate the faith community
Community Outreach
Community groups and organizations are well-positioned to help spread the word about afterschool programs offering meals and snacks.

Community-based organizations can spread the word by:

  • Working with the state agency to map existing afterschool meal and snack sites in the community in order to target areas for new sites outreach or promotion
  • Posting information about afterschool programs and meal sites in locations like:
    • Parks and recreation centers
    • Libraries
    • Community health centers
    • Public transportation centers
    • Public housing complexes
    • Places of worship
    • Grocery stores
    • Convenience stores
    • Food pantries
    • Government services offices (English language learning programs, adult literacy, vocational training, WIC, Medicaid, social services, etc.)
Online Outreach
Online and social media networks are a great way to reach a large audience. 

The information that you decide to provide would depend on your services and your audience, but options include:

  • Details about your organization’s programs that serve afterschool snacks or meals
  • Information about other local afterschool programs that offer snacks or meals, particularly those that are open-to-all or accepting new participants
  • Stories or statistics demonstrating the need for afterschool snacks and meals
  • Best practices or stories from successful programs

You can spread the word through:

  • A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website and providing state agencies and other organizations with information to do the same
  • A direct link from your website to social media sites, including Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook
  • Information about afterschool meals and snacks posted on social media sites and shared with local leaders
  • Videos, photos, and other digital content shared with your online network
  • Facebook and Instagram ads, which can help to spread the word faster and further, that include your website, phone number, and a link to the FAQ document
The Umbrella Model
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. Common examples of enrichment programming for this model include afterschool tutoring or homework help. 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. Delivered meals can complement a central serving location for large groups like sports teams or band practice. 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.

  • Strong Results: The Umbrella Model was pilot tested in schools across the country, where it boosted participation by over 50 percent. You can read more in our report brief, CACFP Afterschool Meals Program Expansion with the Umbrella Model, and learn how you can implement it with our handout. In addition, this sample text can help with promoting the meal to students.
  • 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.
Supper in the Classroom
Supper in the Classroom has the potential to dramatically expand Afterschool Meals.

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 in elementary schools, Supper in the Classroom shows the potential to reach 80 percent of all students and lead to more afterschool meals served than lunches.

  • Supporting Guidance: 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.
  • ​​​​Implementation Resources: To learn more about the pilot tests and how you can implement this model, you can read our report, Increasing CACFP Afterschool Meals with Supper in the Classroom. For tips on implementation, see our handout, Supper in the Classroom Increases Access to CACFP Afterschool Meals.
  • Success Stories: For real-world examples of how Supper in the Classroom can work in a school, read:
    • Partnering for Supper in the Classroom Success: This case study about implementing this model in a North Carolina school district through a partnership with a non-profit sponsoring organization. The case study covers details like staffing, monitoring, working with principals and teachers, in-class activities, and more. 
    • Ending the Secrecy Around Afterschool Meals: This case study outlines the broader efforts to raise awareness of afterschool meals within San Antonio ISD as well as the implementation of Supper in the Classroom.
Engage Athletics
Student athletes can benefit enormously from nutritious afterschool meals, and coaches and athletic directors can be important supporters of your program.

Working with athletics may seem completely natural, but there are some important considerations due to program rules. Our FAQs on Serving Afterschool Meals to Student Athletes, walks through some of these considerations. For those ready to move forward on working with coaches and athletic directors, use Fuel Your Athletes with Afterschool Meals to promote the benefits of partnering to serve afterschool meals to student athletes.

Streamline with School Nutrition Programs
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.

Provide Year-Round Meals
Summer meals sponsors and sites can be instrumental during the school year by participating in CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals. Likewise, CACFP sponsors and afterschool programs can provide needed access to meals during summer break.

Many trusted locations provide year-round programs and services to children, so it makes sense to offer meals and snacks year-round. However, sponsors and sites sometimes encounter barriers and extra work when trying to transition between programs.

Our chart can help you understand the similarities and differences between the Summer Food Service Program and the CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program in order to better manage the transition and identify areas to promote streamlining.

This guide can help state agency officials work with the SFSP staff to identify areas for streamlining, sharing, and simplification. This guide includes a summary of pertinent USDA memos that provide options for streamlining.

The CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals Program can also be used by both school and non-profit sponsors to serve meals and snacks on weekends, holidays, school breaks and closures. Learn more with No Kid Hungry’s 365 Days of Service with Child Nutrition Programs.