Without school meals, some kids may not have enough food to eat. Here are two programs that can help in communities across the country.
kids eating lunch in the summer
Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock 

The end of the school year should be a happy time for kids. But the sad reality is that for some children, not having school can mean not having enough to eat. Millions of kids rely on free and reduced-price meals at school—for some, that means up to two meals a day plus after-school snacks. But when summer rolls around, those children can really suffer. Considering that more than half of public school children now live in poverty, summer hunger is likely an all-too-common problem.

"While food insecurity impacts everyone's health negatively, it's particularly crushing to children," says Clancy Cash Harrison, RD, a food justice advocate. "Nourishing foods are critical to a child's mental, emotional, and physical development."

To combat summer hunger, here are two major programs available to kids:

  • The YMCA's Summer Food Program, now in its seventh year, is set to serve more than 7 million meals and snacks to nearly 300,000 kids this summer. Its program also offers activities to help enrich kids' minds and keep their bodies moving. Find out if there's a participating YMCA in your area.
  • The USDA plans to serve more than 200 million meals this summer to kids ages 18 and younger as part of its Summer Food Service Program. The meals are served at various sites in areas across the country, including local schools, community centers, libraries, and churches. See if there's a site near you.

Yet even with these programs, some children may still not receive the help they need due to transportation challenges or location of meal sites, says Harrison. Families needing assistance with food can reach out to their local food pantry or local church (even if they're not a member). They can also apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps). Without access to school meals, a family can see its grocery bill increase by a couple hundred dollars each month in the summer, she notes.

Just as important: Getting rid of the stigma that may surround food assistance programs like these. "If we are serious about ending childhood hunger in the United States and improving the health of our next generation, we must dismantle the stigma," says Harrison. "We must shift the way we individually and collectively think and talk about food insecurity in the United States. Using food assistance programs should be seen as a hand up, not a hand out."

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. You can follow her on Facebook. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.