Across Vermont, just over 36,000 school-age children rely on school breakfast and lunch to provide the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. When summer vacation begins, these children are left vulnerable to food insecurity and the resulting consequences. Communities are taking action by offering free meals for kids and teens during the summer months.
Last year about 300 sites served free, healthy meals and snacks to kids during summer break through the Summer Food Service Program. Meals are served in locations where kids naturally congregate in the summer, including public parks and pools, libraries, farmers’ markets, and schools, and are often paired with either enrichment or physical activities to keep kids moving and learning. Summer meals are also a great opportunity to build upon the momentum of farm-to-school programming that takes place during the school year.
Summer is a season of agricultural abundance, and these meal sites can increase participation by incorporating more fresh, local foods into their menus. On-site taste tests or cooking demonstrations can keep kids engaged and also serve as an opportunity to try new recipes that can be incorporated during the school year. Winooski Farmers’ Market serves free meals for kids every Sunday alongside their Power of Produce Club, which provides interactive learning activities to help kids learn about new fruits and vegetables. Other sites pair meal service with hands-on garden lessons.
Summer meals play a critical role in the health and wellbeing of Vermont’s youth. Children at risk of obesity are more likely to gain weight during the summer because they lose access to balanced school meals and opportunities for physical activity. Summer is also the most difficult economic time for low-income families who struggle to pay for the additional cost of meals. Low-income youth are at risk of losing two to three months of reading and math over the summer, leaving them at a disadvantage over their peers when school resumes.
Open or drop-in summer meal sites are available to anyone 18 years old and under- no need to register or call ahead! The more children who participate in these programs, the more federal funds that come into the state. All children, regardless of household income, are encouraged to attend. Sites information can be found by visiting https://www.hungerfreevt.org/summer-meals-site-lists/ or by calling 2-1-1. Texting “FOOD” to 877-877 will also provide information on the five closest meal sites. Farm to Plate Network members can support these efforts by spreading the word and promoting summer meal sites within their respective networks.
The Summer Food Service Program addresses Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Goal 3 (Vermonters will exhibit fewer food-related health problems) and Goal 15 (All Vermonters will have access to fresh, nutritionally balanced food that they can afford).