Getting Free Meals for your Children During the Summer in California


California has established a summer program to ensure that children from low-income families receive nutritious meals when school is on summer break. Children must be 18 years of age or younger to qualify for the program. The end of the school year means one guaranteed healthy meal will be eliminated from a child’s diet. Parents can have a difficult time adjusting to the new schedule and providing that additional meal at home. Food insecurity can have adverse effects on children’s futures, as it has been directly linked to widening the achievement gap and childhood obesity. Low-income children are more likely to fall behind academically during the summer when their food structure is disrupted. It has been proven that during summer months children gain weight two to three time faster, which often leads to childhood obesity. In order to help prevent children from falling behind, California has established several summer meal programs. Review the following sections to learn more about summer meal programs and how to participate:

  • Summer food service program (SFSP) in California
  • Summer meal coalition in California
  • Supporting summer meals programs in California
  • Lunch at the library in California
Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in California

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federal program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) agency. Sponsors enter agreements with state agencies and follow federal guidelines in order to serve meals under the program. As the SFSP programs is federally funded, sponsors are reimbursed for the meals served to children participating in the program. There are several site options that participate in the summer food program. Open sites provide free meals to all children in communities where 50% of the children qualified for reduced priced school meals. Restricted open sites have similar guidelines to open sites, but include certain safety and security restrictions. Closed enrolled sites are for children of low-income families who are enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs through the National School Lunch Program. Migrant families can send their children to migrant sites to participate in the summer food program. Sites provide one or two meals and snacks each day. Migrant sites often serve up to three meals per day. Meals include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, as well as low-fat and unsweetened foods. Snacks can range from muffins and milk to granola and hummus.

Summer Meal Coalition in California

The California Summer Meal Coalition (CSMC) is an organization that supports access to healthy food for youths while school is out. This organization strives to increase access to USDA summer programs on the local level. The CSMC works with various local and state leaders to comprise a strategy that benefits the entire community. These community organizations also provide summer activities and safe places to enjoy play and help keep parents minds at ease. California Summer Meal Coalition gains knowledge from summer meal leaders to keep improving the program and setting examples for other program participants.

Supporting Summer Meals Programs in California

City leaders are an integral part of promoting nutritious summer meal programs and ensuring they continue to exist. City leaders can help sponsor out-of-school programs and assess the needs of families during the summer months. A city leader can head community events and establish workgroups to raise awareness and help implement meal programs. Local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and schools can act as program sponsors in the area. All local centers that provide summer meals will go through a training program to ensure they meet federal guidelines and every meal is nutritious and sustainable. Anyone interested in participating in summer meal programs can contact the National Hunger Hotline or locate a site online.

Lunch at the Library in California

The California Library Association (CLA) works together with the CSMC to connect libraries with the summer meal program. Libraries are trusted spaces in the community that the entire family can take advantage of. This makes California libraries ideal places to host summer meals. Libraries are known to improve quality of life in the community through resources and programs. Local libraries offer several summer programs and are considered safe spaces for children and families. Library resources allow kids to improve academically and families to prosper with the opportunities offered. Children and youth would not have to travel to a designated summer meal location when summer meals are offered at their local library. Community organizers can help to implement lunch at the library by identifying locations that meet summer meal requirements.