Summer is a time for connection, exploration, and fun! Summer nutrition programs make sure children and young people have the nutrition they need to do just that. During the school year, meals are available to kids through school breakfast and lunch. But kids lose critical access to meals during the summer when schools are out. To fill this gap, many local schools and community organizations nationwide operate summer meal programs to provide meals to kids at no cost.
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 non-profit organizations. School Food Authorities can serve summer meals through SFSP or the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO). Both programs offer free summer meals to kids and teens at eligible locations with some small differences in program regulations.
In rural communities, non-congregate meal programs like grab & go, home delivery, and parent pick-up can operate where congregate meals are not available in order to reach even more children during the summer months. In addition to summer meal programs, the Summer Electronic Benefit Program (Summer EBT), starting in summer 2024, will provide grocery benefits to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
Together, rural non-congregate meals, Summer EBT, and traditional congregate meals form a Summer Meals program that can better combat summer hunger.
Free summer meals are available to all children and teenagers 18 years of age or younger who visit an approved open site or are enrolled in an eligible closed site.
USDA defines many other site types, including camps, migrant sites, and more. In addition to kids and teens, people over the age of 18 with disabilities can also participate and receive meals.
Most summer meals sponsors are 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.
A sponsor may prepare its own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or contract meals with a food vendor. Sites can also prepare their own meals on-site or transport them from another location.
Meals self-prepared by the sponsor or site receive a slightly higher reimbursement rate. However, many sponsors lack the kitchen facilities to prepare meals themselves. In this case, vendors like schools, local hospitals, or other public or private food vendors can provide pre-prepared meals to your program.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, meals were served and eaten by participating children on site. This is known as the congregate feeding requirement. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, waivers and program flexibilities allowed non-congregate or "grab & go" style meal service where children could take their meals home or to another location to eat, meals could be delivered to the household, and parents could pick up meals on behalf of children and young people in their household. Non-congregate meal service was a success, and the number of meals served doubled. While the COVID-19 pandemic era waivers and flexibilities have expired, permanent program changes now allow for non-congregate (including "grab & go" style programs and home delivery) in rural communities without access to a congregate meal site.
For a side-by-side comparison of "standard" vs. "wavier" program regulations, check out No Kid Hungry's SFSP & SSO Program Requirements - Comparison Chart Of Usual Vs. COVID-19 Waiver Operations.
For more information, resources, and tools to help you plan your non-congregate summer meal program, check out No Kid Hungry's Implementation Strategies webpage.
There are many ways to participate in the summer meals program. 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. Schools can sponsor SFSP or the NSLP Seamless Summer Option.
- 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 on-site 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.
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
- Nonprofit organizations
- Public or private nonprofit camps
- Public or private nonprofit universities or colleges
Examples include school districts, YMCAs, food banks, parks and recreation agencies, and more. School districts can also sponsor summer meals through the NSLP Seamless Summer Option.
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 common types of meal sites:
- Open: Provides all children with meals at no charge on a drop-in basis; no registration is required. he physical location of the site must be deemed “area-eligible” where 50% or more of children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals based on census tract or block group data.
- Closed enrolled: Provides all children with meals at no charge, though advance enrollment is required. At least half the children enrolled in an activity program are determined to be income-eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through household income forms.
- 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 and household income forms must be collected
- Migrant: Primarily serves children of migrant workers. All children at migrant sites receive three 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, public housing complexes, centers serving migrant workers, or on Native American tribal nation reservations.
In order to operate an open meal site, sites must be determined area eligible. Determining if your site is area eligible can be complicated. Navigating Area Eligibility in Summer and Afterschool Meals provides information on how to determine if a site is area eligible, the types of data that can be used to make that determination, and options for meal service if a site is not area eligible.
You can look up a site's rural and area eligibility status with No Kid Hungry's Summer Meals Eligibility Map. The map includes area eligibility data along with rural eligibility for non-congregate meal service.
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:
Collaborative planning engages multiple stakeholders to address the complexities of offering an accessible, far-reaching summer meals program in a community.
Collaborative planning helps to:
- Build and strengthen relationships among the many groups serving kids
- Identify barriers to participation and expansion on the ground
- Uncover new ideas and opportunities
- Align resources around the most promising strategies
- Strengthen results through shared efforts
There are three key phases to successful collaboration: engaging key stakeholders, creating and managing a collaborative plan, and renewing commitment over time.
Step 1: Engage Stakeholders
Summer meals collaborators will play many roles. They will help you understand the breadth and depth of work happening in the summer; bring different perspectives to the planning process; increase the credibility and reach of the collaborative; and carry out elements of a shared plan.
Engaging Key Stakeholders Guide: No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices has created a resource to help make sure you bring the right players to the table. These community partners will ensure you are taking all relevant factors into account when assessing opportunities and challenges around summer meals programming.
Step 2: Create & Manage the Plan
Once you’ve identified and invited partners to your collaborative workgroup, develop an agenda and planning framework to design effective meetings that lead to clear goals and strategies, preferred tactics, and specific actions. This will ensure your collaborative plan is understandable to all and leads to measurable outcomes.
Holding a planning meeting is a crucial first step to collect input from stakeholders regarding their interests and concerns. It also provides a forum to identify existing resources that can be leveraged to achieve your goals around summer meals. As your plan takes shape and is implemented, stakeholders will appreciate how their own ideas and resources are part of the bigger picture, which can increase buy-in and excitement to stay involved.
As a group, you can develop a summer meals plan. Need a place to start? Check out our Template Summer Meals Plan to guide your work.
Still have questions? No Kid Hungry has compiled a two-page tip sheet to help guide you through this process and keep your efforts on track.
Step 3: Wrap Up & Review Commitment
The end of the summer is an important time for reflection. Hold a debrief meeting with your collaborators and other summer stakeholders to capture important feedback and start planning early for the next year.
Convening partners to debrief provides an opportunity to celebrate the successes and hard work of program sponsors who served meals during summertime, as well as engage in program planning activities for the year ahead.
Examples of Successful Collaboration
Learn from the experiences of others who have collaborated successfully to combat summer hunger.
- Advancing Summer Meals through Collective Impact: A report from No Kid Hungry & Community Wealth Partners explores examples of successful collaboration in Baltimore and Detroit to highlight key strategies and tactics for nonprofit leaders to consider in their work.
- Virginia No Kid Hungry: In 2014, the Virginia Department of Health, Department of Education, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the USDA, and Virginia No Kid Hungry convened to start their second year of summer collaborative planning as part of the USDA's State Technical Assistance Team initiative. After hearing about successes in other states, the Virginia team reached out to the Virginia Library Association to join the planning collaborative. As a result of their participation, 28 libraries served as meal sites in 2015 and even more promoted programs in their community.
- Michigan No Kid Hungry: Since 2012, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan (a No Kid Hungry community) has convened local stakeholders to identify common goals, share challenges and successful strategies, and plan for site locations and expansion. One focus of the collaborative is developing relationships among sponsoring organizations, allowing them to come together to discuss shared nutritional expectations for vended meal sites. As a result, vendors in the region have improved the nutritional quality of the food, an impact that no single sponsor could have had on their own.
- Illinois No Kid Hungry: For many years, large sponsors in Chicago have met with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Midwest Regional Office of the USDA, and Illinois No Kid Hungry to plan for summer meals. When the USDA identified Illinois for a State Technical Assistance Team in 2014, this group expanded to become a statewide collaboration. The group identified target areas for increasing summer meals access in the state and engaged local stakeholders to help with the planning process. One partnership was with Bread for the World, which was already engaging the faith-based community in anti-hunger work in Peoria. This new partnership, combined with support from the Illinois Coalition for Community Services – a program sponsor – helped grow the summer meals program in Peoria. The clear priorities established by the state planning effort enabled the Peoria group to translate this work into increased impact at the local level.
Experienced sponsors – those who manage the financial and administrative aspects of programming – are crucial to the success of summer meals programs since they understand various requirements of the program and have experience addressing implementation challenges.
It is imperative that these partners have the planning resources they need to evaluate program performance and potential areas for expansion as well as opportunities to network with their peers around common challenges and opportunities during the summer months.
- No Kid Hungry Strategies for Sponsor Retention: This resource provides a timeline with specific actions to help anti-hunger advocates maximize support and retention of strong summer meals program sponsors.
- Regional Sponsor Workgroups: Creating a forum for regular sponsor networking and support is a powerful tool to build the capacity of programs over time. Anti-hunger advocates can play a key supporting role in convening program providers to receive technical assistance and engage in peer mentoring in order to improve the quality and reach of programming.
- Proactive Planning for Summer Meals Sponsors: This resource provides sponsors with month-by-month planning tasks to make summer meals a success. It can be used as a guide or framework for your organization's planning efforts.
Community partners play important roles in supporting summer meals programs.
Some partners become sponsors or sites while others provide activities or volunteers at existing sites. In recent years, a number of key institutions have been especially effective in supporting programs around the country.
- Municipal government: Making summer meals programs strong and effective requires elected officials from all levels of government who understand the value of these programs to their constituents. Town mayors, city council members, and other elected leaders are in a strong position to elevate the issue of child hunger within the community and are well-placed to create a sense of urgency around the need for collaboration to address barriers that limit participation.
- Healthcare providers: Hospitals and medical clinics play many roles to facilitate health in communities and an increasing number participate in summer meals as program sponsors or sites. Offering free summer meals at hospitals represents a powerful opportunity for healthcare institutions to address food insecurity, a social determinant of health. Learn more about summer meals and other nutrition interventions by reading Fighting Hunger Through Healthcare: A Seamless Solution and Serving Summer Meals in Health Care Institutions: An Implementation Guide, developed in partnership with the Medical University of South Carolina. Additionally, the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices is pleased to present a series of case studies highlighting healthcare institutions that have successfully implemented free summer meals at hospitals.
- Arkansas Children’s Hospital: 336-bed pediatric facility located in Little Rock, Arkansas
- Atrium Health University City: 130-bed acute care facility in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Medical University of South Carolina: Comprehensive academic medical facility with 750 beds, trauma and cancer centers, and a children’s hospital
- Presbyterian Healthcare Services: Network provider with 981 beds across nine hospital facilities serving residents of New Mexico
- University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center: 1,036-bed academic medical center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio
- Libraries: As Virginia's former First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe has said, “kids can’t be hungry to learn if they’re just plain hungry.” We agree with her, and that’s why No Kid Hungry is working with state and local agencies to bring summer meals to more libraries. The number of libraries serving summer meals has greatly increased in recent years, and many more are poised to serve summer meals. Summer learning loss is a key driver of the student achievement gap, and summer meals represent an additional incentive to encourage participation in summer reading programs that support children and families across the country. Check out our Summer and Afterschool Meals in Libraries page for more!
- Faith communities: Faith-based communities share a commitment to child well-being that can include support for summer meals programming. Religious leaders can call attention to the need for meals within the community, and congregations may be able to host a meals site, provide volunteers, or lend physical resources, such as a bus or van, to help existing sponsors operate more effectively.
- Public housing: Extending the availability of meals to public housing sites is a key way to reach children for whom transportation might otherwise be a barrier to accessing summer meals. Work in this area requires collaboration between property managers, program sponsors, and state agencies. Once potential sites have been located, reach out to your state Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or Rural Development representative for help connecting with the right management staff. Engagement with decision-makers is key, as they can support site staff to set aside time to support programming by serving meals or coordinating onsite activities.
- Transportation agencies: While transportation is a common barrier in summer meals, opportunities may exist to leverage assets already in place within the community to transport children to sites. Fixed-route and demand-response public transportation services represent an opportunity for children and families in both urban and rural areas to access summer meals sites. Effective cross-promotion of both meals programming and public transportation is a win-win for both parties as they seek to effectively serve the community.
Begin the conversation around expansion by encouraging existing sponsors to consider the ‘one more’ approach of adding a site, a day or week of service, or an additional meal to their existing programming.
In areas where no programming is in place, work with community partners and the state agency to identify program-eligible areas of greatest need and map out an action plan to expand service to those areas.
Averaged Eligibility Mapping Tool: Special to summer meals, sites are able to determine their area eligibility using census data. Need help figuring out if a summer meals site or day care home is area eligible according to USDA’s averaging policy? Use No Kid Hungry’s Averaged Eligibility Mapping Tool. This tool will show you if the site’s census block group meets the 50% free and reduced price eligibility threshold when averaged with adjacent block groups.
Getting the word out about your summer meals program is critical to its success, but sometimes promotion and outreach can feel daunting.
No Kid Hungry has created a Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit to help. A range of ready-made and customizable promotional materials are available to help publicize summer meals in your community. Use these resources to maximize the impact of outreach efforts in schools, faith communities, community organizations, and online.
Read on to learn more strategic ways to raise awareness about summer meals in your community.
Local media sources are great avenues to bring attention to the summer meals program.
Consider placing outreach materials in newspapers and local radio and television stations. Newspapers are also great places for an op-ed or letter to the editor. Hosting a media event at a summer meals site is also an opportunity to engage elected officials and bolster support for programs that nourish kids when school is out. Check out No Kid Hungry’s Summer Meals Engagement Toolkit for Elected Officials to learn more.
Schools are a trusted source of information regarding child nutrition programs, making them a crucial partner to reaching kids and families.
If a school offers summer meals, they and their partners should actively promote it to students. If a school does not provide summer meals, then schools should instead provide information about nearby programs that are open to students.
Schools can spread the word about summer meals through:
- Direct outreach to caregivers, such as:
- Social media
- Materials sent home with students, such as a letter to parents or FAQ document on summer meals
- Direct outreach to students, such as:
- Morning or afternoon announcements
- Flyers or posters in common areas
- Social media
- Partnership with the parent-teacher association
Download social media graphics, template press releases, letters to families, and more in our Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit.
Faith-based organizations and places of worship are trusted sources of information and support, so they can be helpful partners for promoting programs within the community.
Faith-based organizations have a number of avenues available to get the word out about the availability of summer meals.
Direct outreach to congregations, such as:
- Flyers or posters in common areas
- Newsletters or bulletin announcements
- Information about summer meals on the 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 about summer meals programming
Download social media graphics, template press releases, letters to families, and more in our Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit.
Grassroots outreach spearheaded by community-based organizations and volunteers is an effective strategy to raise awareness and increase access to summer meals programs. Community groups that offer enrichment programming are also promising candidates to both serve as sites and help get the word out about summer meals.
Community-based organizations have a range of options to initiate or expand grassroots outreach efforts:
- Work with the state agency to map existing summer meals sites in the community in order to target areas for outreach or promotion.
- Conduct a neighborhood canvassing event with volunteer organizations or other local partners.
- Put up outreach materials that promote summer meals in locations across the community: parks and recreation centers, libraries, community health centers, public transportation centers, public housing complexes, childcare facilities, houses of worship, grocery/convenience stores, barbershops, hair salons, food pantries, and other government offices delivering social services.
Download social media graphics, template press releases, letters to families, and more in our Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit.
Websites and social media networks are a great way to reach a large audience at a relatively low cost. Online outreach, including paid advertising, provides an opportunity to hone in on your target audience to ensure your investments of time and money are well-spent.
The information that you decide to provide will depend on your services and your audience, but options include:
- Details about your organization’s programs that serve summer meals
- Information about other local summer programs that offer meals, particularly those that are drop-in sites open to all children
- Stories or statistics demonstrating the need for summer meals
- Best practices or stories from successful programs
You can spread the word through:
- A FAQ section on your website
- It may also be helpful to share this information with state agency partners and other community organizations.
- A direct link from your website to social media sites where up-to-date program information is available
- Summer meals-related social media posts shared directly with your network or by local leaders.
- Videos, photos, and other digital content shared with your online network. Check out No Kid Hungry’s video PSA available for download in English and Spanish.
- Facebook and Instagram ads that include your website, phone number, and information about when and where meals are served
Whether it is because sites are too far away, transportation is unavailable or too costly, or caregivers just don’t know about summer nutrition programs, millions of low-income kids are missing out on meals every summer.
Mobile meals are one solution to this challenge whereby sponsors use vehicles to transport and serve meals directly at apartment complexes, parks, and other locations where children spend their summer days. Mobile programs provide a 'hyper local' food delivery model that may be particularly important in rural or suburban communities where distance and a lack of public transportation options are major barriers to access.
Research commissioned by No Kid Hungry found that 80 percent of children are at home during the summer months, and an equal number of caregivers are interested in mobile meals programs. What's more, one in three low-income parents expressed confidence that a mobile meals truck would make their child more likely to participate in the summer meals program.
The USDA first provided guidance on operating 'mobile feeding sites' in February 1999. Since the initial memorandum, sponsors have implemented mobile programs in rural, urban, and suburban communities. Mobile meals programs can satisfy the congregate meal requirement while taking meal service into areas that would not otherwise have sites.
Mobile Meals Toolkit
For those thinking about starting a mobile program, this toolkit provides a thoughtful set of questions to evaluate community need as well as organizational capacity to implement this service model. For those who are already running mobile programs, the toolkit provides detailed guidance, tips and best practices to support your work.
This toolkit was designed for experienced summer meals program sponsors and created with support from the Arby’s Foundation, in collaboration with Community Wealth Partners (a Share Our Strength consulting group).
Section 1: Overview and Needs Assessment
For those who are just getting started with mobile meals or considering opportunities to improve an existing program, these resources provide a thoughtful set of questions and guidance to determine the level of need and organizational capacity to successfully implement this service model.
Section 2: Planning and Implementation
Once you have determined that mobile meals are the right fit for your program, the next step is to clarify which resources and community partners are needed to ensure success. You’ll also need to get into the specifics of what makes each program successful and develop an effective implementation plan that accounts for program regulations, operating costs, food safety, labor, transportation, and outreach.
- Mobile Meals Toolkit: Partnerships and Site Selection
- Mobile Meals Toolkit: Meal Service Logistics and Best Practices
- No Kid Hungry Summer Meals Calculator
Section 3: Mobile Meals Success Stories
Dive into the following success stories, and be inspired by three unique mobile meals models that were thoughtfully designed to meet the needs of children and families. From Food for People's innovative transportation partnerships, to Seaford School District's "leapfrogging" model, to Garrett County's food trailers that provide both meals and shelter at sites in rural Maryland... each story will give you new ideas and help you to think strategically about designing a successful mobile meals program.
Many summer meals program providers offer year-round programs and services to children, so it may make sense to offer meals and snacks year-round by participating in CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals.
Summer meals sponsors have experience and expertise running a federal child nutrition program, making them a great candidate to sponsor 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.
This 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.
Learn more about CACFP At-risk Afterschool Meals on our Afterschool Meals Webpage.
While not required for most sites, pairing meals with activities is an established best practice for boosting program participation and retention rates during the summer.
When participation rates are stable, it becomes easier for sponsors to accurately predict the number of meals needed for service. This limits food waste, facilitates meal service at sites, and helps sponsors more accurately forecast labor needs and program finances. Most importantly, activities at sites provide children the opportunity to continue learning and socializing with their peers when school is out of session, thereby combating the ‘summer slide.’
Summer learning loss, particularly loss in reading proficiency, compounded over several school years contributes to the achievement gap between children from low-income families and children from higher-income families. This phenomenon is known as the 'summer slide'. Research shows that about two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.
Fortunately, a number of helpful resources exist to support the provision of activities at summer meals sites:
- Summer Food, Summer Moves: This fun, hands-on resource kit from the USDA is designed to get kids and families excited about healthy eating and physical activity during the summer months. All materials are available for download and copy. In addition, schools, childcare providers, and summer meals programs participating in any of the USDA’s child nutrition programs may request free printed materials.
- National Summer Learning Association: The National Summer Learning Association has a range of resources for communities seeking to develop or expand high-impact activity programming during the summer.
When children participate in activities and receive healthy meals during the summer months, they are more likely to return to school healthy and ready to learn. At the same time, by providing additional structure and participation incentives at meal sites, sponsors are likely to benefit from enhanced program participation and retention rates that support program finances over time.
Efforts to optimize meal service can increase participation over time as children and families develop trust in the value of your program. By making deliberate changes to improve processes around meal preparation, delivery, and service, sponsors cultivate a positive image of summer meals across the community.
A number of resources are available to support program sponsors and anti-hunger advocates seeking to increase the quality and appeal of meals served to children during the summer months.
- Optimizing Summer & Afterschool Meal Service: Optimizing Summer and Afterschool Meal Service from the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices provides tips, resources, and thought starters so that you can improve the quality and presentation of the meals you offer in order to build buy-in among potential sites and minimize waste while serving more meals.
- Tips for Staffing Summer Meals Programs includes recommendations for strategically staffing your summer meals programs.
- United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): USDA’s Summer Food Service Program Nutrition Guide provides comprehensive guidance on planning quality meals and ensuring food safety during the summer months. Additionally, USDA has extensive online resources to support successful implementation of Farm to Summer programming.
- Focus on Meal Quality: Meal quality is an integral component of any meal program. Meal Quality: Adaptability, Creativity and Fun shares promising practices from school nutrition teams across the nation that have utilized their creativity and ingenuity to master meal quality, such as how to focus on customer service and create an inclusive meals program, the importance of promoting your meals program, and how to stay inspired and keep the menu varied.
- Food Research & Action Center (FRAC): FRAC, a national anti-hunger organization, has published how-to guides supporting sponsors on incorporating local foods in summer and afterschool meal programs, as well as purchasing high-quality meals from vendors during the summer months.
- FoodCorps: FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who collaborate with communities to make schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn and grow. Working in partnership with USDA and No Kid Hungry, FoodCorps has created resources to introduce state agencies and No Kid Hungry partners to the range of opportunities for partnership between FoodCorps staff and summer meals programs to support promotion and outreach, offer nutrition or gardening programming alongside summer meals, or support food service staff with local food procurement.
Youth engagement empowers young people to have a voice in decisions that affect them in their local communities.
Program providers can play a positive role here: take the opportunity to consider the preferences and needs of the youth you serve. Youth crave a sense of ownership and want to know that their input is valued, so seek out ways to incorporate their insights into program design and implementation.
- No Kid Hungry's Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation Youth Engagement Toolkit: This resource provides guidance and examples of how youth can recruit their peers to help lead anti-hunger efforts, and it can generate new ideas on how to increase participation in summer meals programs.
- Tips for Staffing Summer Meals Programs includes recommendations for hiring teens within the summer meals program.
In approved states beginning summer 2023, Summer Food Service Program and NSLP Seamless Summer Option sponsors can operate non-congregate programs (including "grab & go" style programs and home delivery) in rural communities without access to a congregate meal site. For more information, check out USDA's three pieces of guidance:
- USDA's Implementation Guidance for Summer 2023 Non-Congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas
- Q&A #2: Summer 2023 Non-Congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas
- Offering Multiple Meals as Part of the Non-Congregate Meal Service
Please reach out to your state agency to confirm the availability of non-congregate meal service and allowable models. Note: States are not required to make the non-congregate option available in summer 2023. State agencies had to submit a plan to USDA for approval by April 1, 2023, to allow non-congregate meal service in summer 2023.
To learn more about the rural non-congregate option for summer 2023, check out:
- Webinar: Making the Most of a Moment: Non-Congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas - This webinar shares an overview of USDA's guidance and highlights three program sponsors and their plans for summer 2023 non-congregate operations.
- Fact Sheet: Making the Most of a Moment: Non-Congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas Fact Sheet - This resource gives an overview of the opportunity, provides important information about non-congregate meals, and outlines ways that you can support non-congregate meals in your state or region.
- Implementation Guide: Successful Non-Congregate Meal Service Models for Rural Areas: Implementation Guide - This guide outlines effective models for non-congregate meal service. Use this guide to find strategies and tactics to execute a successful non-congregate summer meals program in your rural community.
- Case Study: Feeding Burke County: A Behind the Scenes Look at Burke County School District's Non-Congregate Summer Food Service Program - This resource highlights Burke County School District’s Summer Food Service Program. It provides behind the scenes and meal box distribution details that can help you implement a similar program in your community.
Important Considerations for Summer 2023 Non-congregate Meal Service
- Both sponsors of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and NSLP Seamless Summer Option (SSO) may provide non-congregate meal service in states approved for summer 2023 operations in rural areas.
- Non-congregate meal service can only be used in locations that are considered rural and without access to a congregate meal site.
- Sponsors should work with their state agencies and FNS Regional Offices to identify rural "pockets" or rural areas within a Metropolitan Statistical Area. No Kid Hungry has added additional layers to our summer mapping tool which shows areas that may be eligible as rural "pockets" upon state agency and USDA approval.
- Please reference USDA's Q&A #2: Summer 2023 Non-Congregate Meal Service in Rural Areas for additional information on rural eligibility guidelines.
- Sponsors can utilize both congregate and non-congregate meal service models. For example, sites in eligible communities can serve congregate meals Monday through Friday and non-congregate meals Saturday through Sunday. Or, if a program only offers an in-person lunch service, children can consume lunch on-site and take home a breakfast for the following day.
- Up to two meals, or one meal and one snack, per child, per day may be offered (in any combination except for lunch and supper). Please reference USDA's guidance on offering multiple days worth or bulk-style meals: Offering Multiple Meals as Part of the Non-Congregate Meal Service.
- With state agency approval, sponsors can distribute up to 10 days of meals at one time.
- Meal service times must be established and approved by your state agency. Approved pick-up schedules or delivery plans may meet this requirement.
- Unlike congregate meal service, sponsors operating non-congregate sites are not required to serve breakfast in the morning or allow one hour between the end of one meal service and the start of the next.
- Meals may be distributed to caregivers to take home to children using a process to ensure eligibility of children.
- Requires state agency approval.
Allowable Meal Service Models
Both "grab & go" style models along with home delivery are allowed in approved states for approved sponsors and sites. For more information about meal service models check out No Kid Hungry's Successful Non-Congregate Meal Service Models for Rural Areas: Implementation Guide.
Also check out our "Grab & Go Success Stories" featuring sponsors from across the country finding success with non-congregate meal service.