Clarissa Hayes, child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), recently led a conversation on summer meals with the American Dairy Association North East at the Big 30 Forum in New Jersey.

While the school year may be wrapping up, many schools will not be shutting their doors for the summer. Schools play a critical role in reducing child food insecurity, and the summer months are no exception.

School districts across the country can operate the Summer Nutrition Programs to combat summer hunger and the summer learning loss that are common for many low-income children who rely on free and reduced-price meals during the school year. Schools have three options for serving meals through the Summer Nutrition Programs: the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); the Seamless Summer Option (SSO); or the traditional School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program for children who attend summer school.

School nutrition directors — eager to implement or improve their summer nutrition programs — met up at the Big 30 Forum in New Jersey to brainstorm ideas for how they can bring more summer meals to their communities’ children.

FRAC’s Clarissa Hayes shared successful strategies schools can adopt to fight childhood hunger through the Summer Nutrition Programs.

Districts can:

Increase the number of summer meal site locations

Schools are a natural fit for summer meal sites, with the food service experience, established systems, and programming of ten already in place to support successful implementation. By serving meals during the summer, schools can bring in additional federal reimbursement and strengthen their overall operations.

If a school district already serves summer meals, it can consider ways to increase their reach by sponsoring community sites lacking capacity to operate on their own. Sites also can improve meal quality through farm-to-school efforts and use children’s feedback on meals served.

Get the word out

Marketing and promotion are key strategies for increasing awareness and participation in summer meals. Schools are required to help with summer food outreach. They can reach out to families before the school year ends about the location of summer meal sites. This can include sending flyers and stickers home with students as well as printing program information on report cards. Schools also can plan mid-summer robo-calls and mailings to keep participation high, and can engage with families through social media.

Address transportation barriers

Transportation to meal sites can be a challenge for some families, especially those in more rural areas, during the summer. Schools can consider providing transportation for students to sites that offer programming, adding a mobile-meals component to reach more children in remote areas, or working with other community partners to do so.

Maximize the number of meals served and operating days

Students need access to summer meals from the day after school lets out until the day before school opens for the next school year. Schools can help reduce gaps that might exist after school-sponsored programming ends by working with community partners to host sites nearby. Additionally, expanding the types of meals served (for example, adding breakfast at sites that only serve lunch) and providing weekend meals through youth-serving or faith-based groups can help reach more children.

Through these successful strategies, school districts can increase summer meals program participation and help close the summer hunger gap.

Learn more about the American Dairy Association’s efforts to support schools’ participation in summer meals, and FRAC’s work to close the summer hunger gap.

FRAC On The Move is a series in which we follow our policy and program experts as they connect with advocates across the country to explore strategies and develop solutions to end hunger. Follow #FRACOnTheMove on Twitter for our latest whereabouts.