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USDA Summer Meals Study

Resource type
Research type
Assessing/Improving Operations
Food Security
Food/Nutrient Analysis
Participation Characteristics
Participation Rates
Policy Analysis
Program Access
Promoting Healthy Eating

The USDA Summer Meals Study provides a comprehensive, nationally representative assessment of the two summer meal programs operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option. It is the first national study to simultaneously examine the facilitators and barriers to program participation among participating and nonparticipating families, sponsors, and sites. This study examines the characteristics of participating and nonparticipating children, including sociodemographic characteristics, household food security status, reasons for participation or nonparticipation, and satisfaction with the meals served to children in the summer of 2018.

  • The summer meal programs have a broad geographic reach. Nearly 80 percent of children in low-income households live within 1 mile of an urban site or within 10 miles of a rural site.
  • Overall, 45 percent of households with children living near a summer meal site are food insecure, which is higher than the 14 percent of households with children who are food insecure nationally.
  • Lack of awareness of the programs is the most frequent reason for nonparticipation.
  • Most summer meal sites are open to all children who want to attend, are located in urban areas, and are operated in school settings.
  • Nine out of ten sites serve fresh fruits and/or vegetables twice a week or more.
Page updated: October 04, 2023