FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Report released this week finds that just over 3 million children received a lunch through the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2017, a small decrease of 14,000 compared to the previous summer. Only one child out of seven received a nutritious summer lunch through the Summer Nutrition Programs when compared to the 20 million children who participated in free and reduced-price school lunch during the 2016–2017 regular school year.

Additionally, FRAC’s Summer Breakfast Status Report, a companion piece to the summer lunch report, found that even fewer children — only 1.6 million — received a summer breakfast. This is a slight decrease (by nearly 19,000 children) from July 2016.

The small decreases in both summer lunch and summer breakfast participation in 2017, combined with the larger decrease in 2016 (-153,000 fewer children reached by summer lunch and -78,000 by summer breakfast), demonstrate that the Summer Nutrition Programs still have much room to grow.

One of the primary reasons for the low participation is the lack of summer programming for low-income children, which provide an important foundation on which strong summer meals programs can be built. To effectively move the needle on summer meals and boost summer breakfast and lunch participation, there must be more programs in low-income communities that offer activities and meals. More investment of public dollars at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as private funding, are needed.

In these reports, FRAC sets ambitious, but achievable, goals for both meal types. For lunch, FRAC challenges states to reach 40 children with the Summer Nutrition Programs for every 100 participating in school lunch. The Summer Nutrition Programs served only 15 children for every 100 low-income children who participated in the National School Lunch Program during the regular school year. For breakfast, FRAC challenges states to reach 70 children with summer breakfast for every 100 participating in summer lunch; however, states are currently serving breakfast to just over half (52.5 percent) of those children who participated in summer lunch.

If these goals were met, an additional 2 million children would eat a nutritious summer breakfast, and 5 million children would eat a nutritious summer lunch, on an average summer day; states would have received an additional $402 million in reimbursement.

Despite the decrease in participation on a national level, 15 states grew participation in summer lunch. However, these increases were modest — only three states (Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey) saw participation grow by over 10 percent. On the summer breakfast side, 19 states increased participation, with six states increasing by over 10 percent. Check out these promising practices for expanding summer breakfast participation (pdf).

Fortunately, there is a clear path forward for building stronger Summer Nutrition Programs and reaching more children with summer breakfast and lunch. Partners from every level — the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and anti-hunger, summer, and child advocates — must step up and work together to ensure there are enough summer programs serving children — and serving meals — so that every child returns to school well-nourished and ready to learn.

Learn more about FRAC’s work with the Summer Nutrition Programs.

Dig into the research and see how your state is doing in summer meals participation by reading the full summer nutrition and summer breakfast reports.