Congress recently improved the federal child nutrition programs to make it easier for programs serving children after school, on weekends, and during school holidays to serve a meal in addition to or instead of a snack. The federally-subsidized meals and snacks attract children to out-of-school-time programs, where they can be active, engaged and safe while their parents are at work. The food also helps keep hunger at bay so children can fully participate in the activities going on at the program.
Providing healthy meals and snacks is particularly important given the rapidly increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. Since 1980 the number of young people who are overweight has more than tripled. By providing healthy food, nutrition programs can play a critical role in preventing obesity and improving overall health.
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (meals and snacks)
The National School Lunch Program (snacks)
The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides federal funds to afterschool programs to serve meals to children age 18 and under during the school year. The meals can be served at any time during the afterschool program, either at a traditional dinner time or immediately when the students arrive after school depending on the length of the afterschool program. An afterschool snack can also be served in addition to the meal.
Just as with afterschool snacks, to qualify for meals, afterschool programs must offer educational or enrichment activities. Because of this requirement, athletic programs that compete in leagues and do not have other activities do not qualify to serve meals.
Download the fact sheet Moving from Afterschool Snack to a Meal: It is easier than you think! (pdf) to learn more about this exciting new meal program.
All meals served through the Child and Adult Care Food Program must meet USDA nutritional guidelines. Suppers (and dinners) must include all of the following:
Meals can be hot or cold and as simple as a ham sandwich, cucumber slices, apple, and a carton of low-fat milk. Snacks must include two of the four components.
The state child nutrition agency can provide afterschool programs with additional information about the nutrition guidelines and help them plan menus that meet the USDA requirements. Also, check out these model meal menus:
By the time children arrive at their afterschool program, lunch is a distant memory. Their growing bodies need food in between lunch and dinner just to get through the afternoon. Without it, they feel run down, their attention span shortens, their ability to learn diminishes, and they have difficulty fully participating in afterschool activities.
Healthy snacks allow children to be fully engaged in the educational and enrichment activities at the afterschool program. Food also helps attract children to afterschool programs, especially older children who have more of a say in determining whether or not they participate.