School’s out, and that means thousands of families who rely on the school meals program to help feed their children often find themselves struggling to provide nutritious meals. The Summer Food Service Program, known as Summer Eats, helps fill that gap for the 400,000 students who qualify for free or reduced breakfast and lunch in Massachusetts. Summer Eats, a federally funded nutrition program, provides free meals to children 18 and under when school is not in session. It is administered by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with support from the Child Nutrition Outreach Program at Project Bread.
Why Summer Eats Matters
The single most important reason for providing free meals for kids during the summer is – it feeds hungry kids. When school lets out for the summer, more than 400,000 students across the Commonwealth lose access to school breakfast and lunch programs. Over the years, multiple studies have confirmed a link between food insecurity – which is higher in the summer for families with school-age children – and academic performance, behavior and obesity.
In addition, students in low income families with high food insecurity appear to be more affected by the aptly named Summer Slide, where children lose up to two months worth of learning over the summer vacation. Participation in summer reading and enrichment programs has proven to be a potent antidote for the Summer Slide, but the trick is getting kids in to participate in those programs. What works? Providing free meals and snacks for participants significantly increases the number of students who take part in them. Many of the sites that participate in Summer Eats offer recreational and educational programming that keep students engaged and learning throughout the summer months. Kids who participate in summer enrichment programs with meals return to school more prepared to learn, and require less review time to catch up with skills lost over the summer.
Where to Find Summer Meals
Meals through Summer Eats are provided by hundreds of organizations who participate in the USDA Food and Nutrition Service Summer Food Service Program. The SFSP subsidizes the meals served at many summer camps, recreational programs, church sites, public school summer programs and other programs designed to serve public school students. In order to make it easier to find sites providing summer meals, the FNS hosts the Summer Meals Finder app on its website at https://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks. Click the link or the map above to visit the app and find programs and sites near you that offer free Summer Eats for kids.