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Planning for Summer Meal Programs

Summer can be the hungriest time of year for many children from low-income families. When schools close during summer months, students no longer get school meals, and families can struggle to put food on the table. This hunger can have a long-term impact on a child’s health, ability to learn and general well-being.

For millions of children, the answer could be free summer meal programs, run by local schools or community groups. If your school is new to offering summer meals, our team is here to help. Below we list out some helpful steps to get started.

Most state agencies require you to apply to operate the summer meal program early. February and March are great planning months. You have two options to serve meals in the summer if you are already an approved SFA (School Food Authority).

  1. Seamless Summer (SSO) - this is an extension of NSLP, and allows you to easily continue serving your enrolled kids. The meals follow the same meal pattern as NSLP, and are reimbursed at the same rate per meal.

  2. Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) - this program allows you to serve either an enrolled population of kids, or open up your site to feed the community (kids 18 and under). This meal pattern is much simpler, and there is a higher rate of reimbursement per meal.

Now that you know your options to offer meals, here are the steps to get started!

  1. Contact your state agency and notify them of your intent

  2. Determine the locations you will serve meals from

  3. Ensure you have a summer health permit or health inspection for approval to serve meals

  4. Ensure you have all proper equipment to store and serve meals

  5. Coordinate, contract or procure a vendor to provide meals in the quantity you need

  6. Get the word out! Notify your parents or community that you will be serving meals - include the dates, days of the week and meal times. Use community fliers, social media and other community partners to help spread awareness

  7. Before kicking off your program, ensure your sites are properly set up to claim meals with the state agency

  8. Create a plan to properly monitor all sites, using all state templates (most require a pre-operational visit, a first week visit and a first 4 weeks visit)

We have many more best practices and tips for running a compliant and successful summer meal program. Our team would be more than happy to help with staff training or creating templates for daily use. Contact us today for support, or check out the below helpful information from No Kid Hungry and USDA.


No Kid Hungry - Summer meal programs are also harder to find. Many parents simply don't know these resources are there for their children. No Kid Hungry runs a free texting service that helps families find meals in their neighborhoods. Parents and caregivers simply text the word "FOOD" to 877-877 to see all the nearby options. (The service is also available in Spanish by texting the word "COMIDA" instead.)

USDA - Are you a parent or guardian looking for SFSP sites near you? Find a summer site in your community with the Summer Meal Site Finder mapping tool. You can text “Summer Meals” to 97779 or call 1-866-348-6479 to find a site near you. Learn more about the USDA's Summer Food Service Program by clicking here.


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