Bridging the Summer Meals Gap
Increasing access to fresh and nutritious foods during the summer can strengthen national security
For many children, summer provides a break from the routine of the school year. However, for kids who depend on school meals, losing access to these meals during the summer months can lead to a lack of proper nutrition and food insecurity. Summer meals are vital to bridging the gap in consistent food access faced by kids who are food insecure when school is out.
To support children and families who depend on school meals, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds federal summer nutrition programs, administered by designated agencies in each state. These programs have proven vital in providing meals to children whose schools have closed due to COVID-19.
However, the existing summer meal program has shortcomings. Many programs operate in congregate meal sites, which can reduce access for children without transportation. Social distancing guidelines are likely to extend into summer, potentially reducing or eliminating congregate sites. Additionally, the usual supply of food available to schools has been interrupted. Substituting foods and ensuring that balanced meals continue may not be possible without the meal preparation knowledge of school food-service staff. Finally, a lack of meals provided through these federal programs is impacting family finances at a time when budgets may already be stretched thin, further limiting access to fresh and nutritious foods.
We must ensure that children have access to fresh and nutritious foods throughout the school year and summer. Without proper nutrition, our young people will not be prepared to succeed.
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Edward Tonini, U.S. Air Force
Ensuring that all children have consistent access to fresh and nutritious food year-round is critical for kids to grow up to be healthy and prepared for any career they choose, including the military. Increasing funding for school and summer meal programs, adapting meals to incorporate available foods while maintaining nutritional standards, and providing additional options for food delivery are all vital in supporting children’s access to healthy food whenever schools are not open. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored these programs’ necessity in ensuring that children have the nutrition they need.