Save your food budget with summer meals

In the summer, many families’ food budgets increase. Care for your child and your wallet by using the summer meal program.

In the summer many families struggle to feed their children 3 meals a day. During the school year, breakfast and lunch at school will often lower the food budget at home considerably. During the summer, family food budgets increase – as does the number of children at risk of malnutrition.

Many public school systems have summer feeding programs that offer free lunch at selected sites for youth 18 and younger. Unfortunately, there are many myths that contribute to these programs being highly underutilized. Some communities are trying to be creative, offering meals via food truck, or even extended food stamp benefits.

Before you decide that the summer meals program isn’t for your family, please take a look at the following myths.

Myth: Summer meals are only for little/younger kids.
Reality
: All children through age 18 can participate.

Myth: Summer meals are only for “poor people.”
Reality
: Summer meals are for everyone, they have nothing to do with income. Come out for lunch and meet your neighbors!

Myth: My kids go to different schools, I can’t run all over town to get my kids to a feeding site. I need my older kids to watch the younger ones!
Reality
: Most school districts allow all children up to age 18 to eat at the school that is most convenient. The whole family can go to one location.

Myth: The school that my child attends doesn’t have a feeding program, so we aren’t eligible to receive meals.
Reality
: Every school in a district may not have a feeding program, but all children in the district are still eligible. For example – the middle school your child attends may not serve lunch, but the elementary school down the street might. Your middle schooler would be welcome at the elementary school.

Myth: My child goes to several different places during the week for childcare. She isn’t near home, so she can’t get lunch at her school.
Reality
: In most school districts, your child can go to a different site every day if she needs to. There is no need to choose one location. If you move, or if you have “roving” day care, that is fine; just locate the site that is closest to your child on any given day.

Myth: My 17-year-old dropped out of school – she isn’t eligible.
Reality
: Any child 18 or under is welcome – even if they were not enrolled in any school during the school year.

Myth: You have to fill out a bunch of forms to qualify.
Reality
: Summer feeding programs will feed any child that shows up – the child did not need to receive free and reduced lunch during the year, there are no prequalifying forms to fill out.  Children don’t need to “prove” identity or school enrollment.

Myth: Schools during the summer are empty, there won’t be any supervision.
Reality
: Many summer feeding sites also have supervised activities going on, so it can be really fun to go to the school. Even if there are no activities, there is always supervision during the meal period.

Myth: Kids getting the free meal have to participate in a program.
Reality
: Kids do not have to participate in a program to receive the free meal.

Myth: Kids don’t need to get up and get moving in the summer. It’s okay to sleep past lunch time.
Reality
: Sure, it’s great to sleep in during the summer, but sleeping in so long that you don’t have your first meal until afternoon isn’t healthy. Keeping kids on a schedule is good for them.

Myth: The food isn’t good.
Reality
: Summer meals must meet USDA guidelines. These meals are nutrient dense and always include milk, fruit and vegetables. Some sites even serve hot meals.

This summer, take the time to visit a summer feeding site with your child. The website of your school district will list sites, activities and even the menu. This could be a fun and nutritious activity for your child during the summer months that will also build in structure to your child’s day.

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