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Promoting Nutrition in Summer Meal Program with Best Practices

EO Guidance Document #
FNS Document #
SP06 SFSP06-2016v2
Resource type
Policy Memos
Guidance Documents
Resource Materials
PDF Icon Policy Memo (359.39 KB)
DATE: May 18, 2016
POLICY MEMO: SP 06-2016, SFSP 06-2016 (version 2)
SUBJECT: Promoting Nutrition in Summer Meal Programs, with Best Practices
TO: Regional Directors
Special Nutrition Programs
All Regions
State Directors
Child Nutrition Programs
All States

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program’s (NSLP) Seamless Summer Option (SSO) were established to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recognizes and appreciates the important role summer meal sites play in alleviating food insecurity and hunger in those children most in need when meals are not available through the NSLP. Summer meal sites also play a valuable role in helping children learn, grow, and stay healthy. By offering nutritious foods at summer sites, children learn how to build a healthy plate and establish healthy eating habits that may continue into adulthood.

In an effort to balance the need to provide meals to vulnerable populations with the need to contribute to the health and well-being of children, FNS strongly encourages sponsors to take steps toward serving nutritious and appealing meals at their summer sites. This memorandum highlights resources and strategies to improve the nutritional quality and appeal of the meals served to children in SFSP and SSO. Additionally, the attachment provides best practices and tips on how to implement the best practices. Version 2 of this memorandum includes new resources and updates the best practices in the Attachment. This memorandum supersedes SP 06-2016, SFSP 06-2016 Promoting Nutrition in Summer Meals, Nov. 12, 2015.

Nutrition Resources

Sponsors should, as much as possible, purchase and serve foods that align with the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Dietary Guidelines), such as serving more nutrient dense foods like whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables, and less foods with added sugars and solid fats. FNS provides many resources to assist sponsors in offering healthier menu items and incorporating the best practices listed in the Attachment into their meal service.

First, sponsors should watch FNS’ Serving High Quality Meals in Summer Meal Programs webcast []. It provides tips for working with vendors, information on how to procure local foods, and Team Nutrition resources. Second, sponsors should review the Summer Meals Toolkit [] for healthy menu planning resources and strategies on how to offer meals with more whole grains, a greater variety of whole fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, and canned), local foods, fewer added sugars, and less sodium and solid fats.

Third, sponsors may visit the Team Nutrition Summer Food, Summer Moves [] for a free tip sheet on “Offering Healthy Summer Meals that Kids Enjoy” to share with summer meal site operators (in English and Spanish). Free nutrition education posters, placemats, parent handouts, and flyers are available as well to help site operators inform families about healthy food choices based on MyPlate and to provide fun activities to generate interest in summer meals.

Fourth, sponsors should also check out the Healthy Meals Resource System []. Here, sponsors will find more menu planning tools, recipe ideas, and additional tips and ideas on how to improve the quality of summer meals, such as working with vendors or hosting taste tests to help introduce and get children excited about new foods and menus.

Finally, sponsors can visit the MyPlate website [] for resources. MyPlate is an icon that acts as a reminder to help people make healthier food choices and reflects recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines. Nutrient dense foods (ex. whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and peas, lean meats and poultry, and dairy products prepared without added solid fats, sugars, starches, and sodium) are the basis of a healthful eating pattern and are typically more filling than refined grains and juices. Resources found on the MyPlate website, such as the MyPlate 10 Tips Nutrition Education Series, can help sponsors identify healthier options to ensure menu choices contain the most nutrients children need to grow and be healthy. Offering healthier choices gives children more of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need for health.

Local Foods

Sponsors can further improve the quality and appeal of their meals with local products. Summer is a great time to incorporate the bountiful harvest of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other local foods. Local foods span the entire meal, from fruits and vegetables to dairy, grains, meat, eggs, and beans. Sponsors can find seasonal products in their freshest state from a variety of sources:

  • Direct from a farmer or food hub;
  • Farmers markets;
  • Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs; school or community gardens; and
  • Through distributors or food service management companies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guide, Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs [], showcases the many ways sponsors can find, buy, and serve local foods in summer meals.

Sponsors can also pair these local foods with fun nutrition and agriculture-based activities to keep children engaged in their programming. Local foods tie into numerous activities that keep children both nourished and engaged, as well as help children learn more about where their food comes from and build healthy eating habits. Possible activities include, but are not limited to:

  • Growing or visiting edible gardens;
  • Taking a farm field trip or hosting farm visits;
  • Harvest of the Month or other special recognition of local foods; and
  • Participating in taste tests or cooking demonstrations.

For more tips and ideas on how to increase the nutritional quality and build related enrichment activities into summer meals programs see SP07 SFSP 07-2016: Local Foods and Related Activities in Summer Meals Programs, with Questions and Answers.

Visit USDA’s Farm to Summer website to find links to other helpful guidance and resources [].

Procurement and USDA Foods

Sponsors with vended meal sites should work with their food vendors when trying to implement the best practices listed in the Attachment. Any initial solicitations for food service management companies should specify the minimum meal pattern requirements that must be met, according to SFSP regulations. Sponsors can go further and create solicitations that include nutritional specifications that ask for healthier meal options, greater variety, and menus that are culturally and age appropriate.

Additionally, SFSP sponsors may be eligible to receive USDA Foods for use in summer meals, either directly from the state distributing agency or the local school food authority. USDA Foods meet the highest safety and nutrition standards, can help stretch food budgets, and meet meal pattern requirements. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, including meat and poultry, and other healthy food choices are available from USDA Foods [].

State agencies are reminded to distribute this information to program operators immediately. Program operators should direct any questions regarding this memorandum to the appropriate state agency. State agency contact information is available at State agencies should direct questions to the appropriate FNS regional office.

Angela Kline
Policy & Program Development Division
Child Nutrition Programs


Page updated: April 07, 2023

The contents of this guidance document do not have the force and effect of law and are not meant to bind the public in any way. This document is intended only to provide clarity to the public regarding existing requirements under the law or agency policies.