Summer Meals

Summer Meals Survey of Parents

To help inform strategies for increasing access to summer meals, Share Our Strength partnered with APCO Insights in 2013 to conduct a national survey to learn more about what low-income families’ lives are like during the summer and their interest in summer meals programs. The survey aimed to:

  • Gauge current summertime food/meal behaviors of low-income families
  • Determine impact of the loss of school meals and how families cope
  • Measure awareness of Summer Meals Programs
  • Validate barriers to participation uncovered in parent focus groups  held in 2012
  • Assess interest and willingness to participate
  • Evaluate importance of specific program components
  • Validate the best communication channels and messengers for outreach to families


APCO Insight, the opinion research division of APCO Worldwide, designed and conducted the 2013 Summer Meals Survey. The research surveyed 1,200 low income families in the United States; 900 households nationally and oversamples of 100 each in Arkansas, Colorado and Baltimore, Maryland. 


Major Findings


There is need for nutrition assistance amongst low-income families

  • Nationally 43% of low-income families find it harder to make ends meet during the summer and 32% sometimes find themselves without enough food during the summer months.
  • Of families that participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program, more than half (54%) find it harder to make ends meet during the summer and 43% sometimes find themselves without enough food during the summer months; 73% of families report spending more on food during the summer months than during the school year.
  • Most low-income families (62%) report spending more on food during the summer months with an average increase of $316 more per month.


 Most low-income children spend their time at home during the summer

  • Most low-income children (80%) are at their homes during the summer, and even more (86%) eat lunch at home most days – few are already in programs that can serve federally reimbursed summer meals.


Low-income families are interested in summer meals programs

  • Most low-income families (68%) are interested in summer meals programs, especially those that have a demonstrated need for food assistance.
  • Of those that have participated in summer meals programs in the past, nine out of ten would recommend attending the site to others and the same number are interested in using the program again.


Awareness of summer meal programs is low amongst low-income families

  • Only 40% of low-income families report being aware of locations for free summer meals and only 17% report their child/children having received those meals. Only one in four families that know about the program have chosen to participate in the past.


Low-income families are looking for safe, trusted places with quality food to send their children

  • Above all, low-income families are looking for safe sites with staff that they trust; 72% of respondents said this was necessary to consider sending their child to a summer meals site.
  • The second highest concern was serving healthy, wholesome meals with 62% reporting it to be necessary.
  • After safety and meal quality, families are looking for sites that are convenient to access and offer engaging activities. They also believe the presence of recreational activities and the opportunity to socialize will make more kids want to participate.
  • In open responses to what families know about the program, association with schools was the most commonly occurring theme. This reinforces the idea that schools are an ideal sponsor and site for the program.


 Low-income families want to hear about meal programs through schools and other trusted sources

  • Overall, schools are the most reliable source for receiving materials about programs followed by places of worship and grocery stores; 67% of WIC recipients want to receive information through WIC offices. 
  • Direct mail and websites (particularly among urban and suburban respondents) are the most desired channels to receive information about programs and should be part of local and statewide outreach plans.


Survey Resources


This survey was made possible by the generous support of the Arby’s Foundation.