As the school year is winding down, do you ever consider what students who rely on school meals will do for food over the summer months? Will they have healthy, nutritious meals and snacks to keep them nourished and on track for learning once they return to the classroom?
In recent issues of SEEN Magazine, you’ve read about the power of school meals to fight childhood hunger. Specifically, the importance of school breakfast has been highlighted as a proven, successful strategy to lessen hunger.
Taking it one step further, school breakfast impacts overall nutrition in a positive way leading to better math grades, test scores and attendance. But when school is out and school meals are no longer the mainstay for food-insecure children, what can you do to make sure students get the nutrition they need to come back to school ready to learn?
Summer Meals Equal
On-Going, Balanced Nutrition
Federally funded summer meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Seamless Summer Option provide balanced nutrition along with enrichment activities to continue learning during summer months. As with meals served to students during the school year, every summer meal comes chock-full of valuable nutrition needed for growth and development. Healthy choices like fruits and veggies, lean protein, whole grains and dairy round out the plate to provide nutrients often missing in kid’s diets. For example, drinking milk and eating dairy foods that have nine essential nutrients make it easy for kids to get the bone-building calcium and other nutrients their growing bodies need.
Help With Resources is Available
Dairy farmers’ commitment to kids began in 1915 with the founding of the National Dairy Council®. Grounded in nutrition research, education and partnerships, National Dairy Council, on behalf of dairy farmers and the dairy community, has collaborated with health and wellness professionals, parents and educators to champion the health and well-being of children for over 100 years.
The Dairy Alliance, formerly the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc., is the regional dairy council in the southeast and stands ready to help get summer meal programs going. Through equipment grants for keeping dairy foods at the right temperature as well as materials to help heighten awareness of summer meal programs, The Dairy Alliance school health and wellness team can assist as program planning gets underway.
Reaching Rural Areas Can Be a Challenge, But It’s Not Impossible
This summer, USDA plans to serve more than 200 million free meals to children 18 years and under at approved Summer Food Service Program sites. In rural areas, program sponsors in past years have faced challenges in getting meals to the students who need them. Meal sponsor creativity along with assistance from partners, including No Kid Hungry and The Dairy Alliance, has resulted in more children getting summer meals. Making meals mobile for easier connection to children in under-served, hard-to-reach communities — especially in rural areas — has made a huge difference in filling the nutrition gap.
Harrisonburg (Va.) City Schools Mobile Café
In Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS), 71 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Many students rely on school meals to provide them with good nutrition during the school year and the need doesn’t go away over summer when school is out. For several years, breakfasts and lunches have been served to students at summer school locations. These sites are open to any students who can get to the site — not just those in summer school. However, transportation can be an issue for many families. To meet the nutrition needs of more students, the district realized the need to meet students where they are — in their own neighborhoods.
Last spring, HCPS purchased the former Bookmobile from the Massanutten Regional Library and converted it into a “Mobile Café.” The conversion involved retrofitting the bus with hot and cold food storage equipment down one side and seating down the other side, then re-wrapping the outside with a colorful nutrition themed design. The district collaborated with partners to help cover costs for the mobile unit. With grant funding from The Dairy Alliance, the school district was able to keep milk fresh and cold.
During summer 2017, the Mobile Café visited four neighborhoods around Harrisonburg each Monday through Friday from June 26th through August 4th and served lunches at no cost to children up to the age of 18. Lunches were provided through the USDA Summer Food Service Program. Because all HCPS schools have more than 50 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced meals, lunches are free to all children regardless of their individual eligibility category. On average, 140 lunches were served from the bus each day. Four additional stops will be added this summer to reach even more students.
Each location also has activities for children to participate in after they eat lunch at the site. Activities such as crafts and sports are staffed by volunteers from the HCPS community. During the regular school year, the bus is used for nutrition education activities including small group classes and taste tests. The district is exploring many opportunities for additional community partnerships as visits are made to neighborhoods.
Rowan-Salisbury (N.C.) Schools Yum Yum Bus
As Rowan-Salisbury School Nutrition Program gears up for another summer of “meals on the bus,” the effects of last year’s program have continued to shine through the winter months. A few years ago, after attending a Summer Palooza! Summit offered by North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Rowan-Salisbury schools made a commitment to increase their summer meals by 10 percent. They had no idea how their efforts would not only exceed anyone’s expectations, but also make so many lasting impressions. For years they rented trucks to deliver meals to camps, churches and other summer sites until in 2016 they chose to go another route. Rowan-Salisbury decided to use buses to serve meals to students in rural communities and housing developments. They were able to deliver books and fresh produce to families in over 130 sites each day by partnering with several organizations like the public library and local farmer’s market. In summer 2017, the Yum Yum Bus was fully outfitted with air conditioning, countertops and a diner-like seating area for students to enjoy meals in a nice atmosphere. The Dairy Alliance provided insulated cooler bags and hard-sided coolers to maintain cold temperatures of dairy foods.
School principals and administrators rode on the Yum Yum Bus to check out this “mini restaurant” their School Nutrition Program had cruising the streets of Rowan County. They were more than amazed at the service provided. Committed to do more, the Yum Yum Bus hit the streets again over the Christmas holidays bearing presents for the children and families of Rowan-Salisbury Schools. This summer Rowan-Salisbury Schools will add a second Yum Yum Bus to its fleet of mobile summer meal vehicles. And don’t be surprised if this one carries the tune of “Meals on the Bus are Yum, Yum, Yum.”