Once school lets out for the day, many children from struggling households face the possibility of going hungry until they are back at school for breakfast. Tight family budgets and parents’ work schedules can mean students will leave school without knowing supper is guaranteed at home.

Fortunately, the national Afterschool Nutrition Programs can ensure children get the healthy food they need while also drawing them into a safe environment where they can learn and play.

The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recently released its inaugural Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation report about the Afterschool Nutrition Programs, which include the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the National School Lunch Program. FRAC’s analysis found that, in October 2016, nearly 1.1 million children received an afterschool supper. Average daily participation grew from about 200,000 children in October 2011. In October 2016, nearly 1.6 million children received an afterschool snack. More than 44,000 afterschool programs provided a meal, a snack, or both.

There is cause to celebrate the success that the Afterschool Nutrition Programs have already achieved in reducing hunger and supporting programs that provide important academic and enrichment activities in a safe environment for children while their parents work, but the need to redouble efforts to reach more children with these programs cannot be overstated. In October 2016, afterschool suppers reached one child for every 20 low-income children that participated in school lunch, and the rate at which participation is growing has slowed significantly from the burst in growth after nationwide eligibility for the program began in 2011.

One of the most effective ways to increase participation in afterschool suppers is to ensure that there are enough programs offering afterschool activities in low-income communities, that struggling families are not costed out of participating, and that those programs provide suppers. That requires more public and private funding for afterschool programs, including maintaining existing funding streams, such as the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and investing additional dollars at federal, state, and local levels.

In addition to increasing investments in afterschool programs, states also should implement proven strategies and best practices for expanding the reach of the Afterschool Nutrition Programs. These include encouraging eligible afterschool programs to maximize service by providing suppers instead of or in addition to snacks, recruiting more school districts to provide afterschool suppers and snacks, simplifying the administration of the Afterschool Supper Program, serving meals during weekends, holidays, and school closures, and improving meal quality.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and anti-hunger, afterschool, and child advocates all have important roles to play in increasing participation. FRAC is committed to working with these groups to amplify expansion efforts to ensure low-income children in every state have access to the Afterschool Nutrition Programs. Take advantage of FRAC’s resources and research to increase afterschool meals participation in your state and local community.

Learn more about closing the afterschool hunger gap in Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation.