Feeding Children and Teens during the Summer: Summer Food Service Program

girl eating peach

Have you ever wondered how children are fed during the summer months when school is out? Some children may have access to food at home, but many children do not, prompting the need for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SFSP provides free and nutritious meals to children 18 years of age and under in low-income areas during the summer. Adult family members can also eat a nutritious meal with their children for a low price.

SFSP is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by state agencies, such as the state department of education or department of agriculture. These state agencies monitor the SFSP sponsors and sites and communicate with the USDA regarding regulations.  A sponsor is an organization, such as a school district or a non-profit community organization. They must be able to responsibly operate, support, and oversee finances of a food service program. The sponsors must complete SFSP training and apply to serve free meals under the SFSP. To ensure children are receiving healthy meals, sponsors must follow the SFSP meal patterns and requirements established by the USDA. Milk, grains, fruits and vegetables, and meat or a meat alternate must be presented at each site. Sponsors operate one or more sites, the physical locations where meals are served. Popular sites include schools, recreation centers, community parks, and water parks.  Families can find nearby sites through social media ads, calling the National Hunger Hotline, or using the Kids Food Finder Map.

The bright red El Fuego food truck in Greeley, Colorado demonstrates how a sponsor can go above and beyond serving healthy meals by providing outreach, access, and service. During the school year, the truck serves street tacos and other healthy options that meet the National School Lunch Program guidelines. During the summer, the meals typically include a sandwich, vegetable, fruit, and milk. The meals are prepped ahead of time and packaged in colorful, kid-friendly bags. The food truck buzzes around town for both breakfast and lunch, stopping at seven different sites. El Fuego staff are passionate about their service. They encourage the kids to come back each day for a meal and keep them company while they enjoy their food on site. The staff make it a point to park in front of the popular gas stations and other busy locations to guide the children towards a healthier food option. These best practices can be adopted by sponsors in other locations.

The SFSP plays an imperative role in the quest to provide proper nutrition to children year-round. The USDA Summer Food Service Program website provides additional resources to learn more about this program in your state.


Sammie Springsteen, University of Northern Colorado

Jonathan Padia, Office of School Nutrition, Colorado Department of Ed.

Photo by usdagov / CC BY http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/