Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)

Serving Summer Meals

Last Published: 04/10/2017

Providing access to summer meals for children in low-income areas is an important priority for USDA. When school is out during the summer months and children are no longer receiving breakfast and lunch at school, many families struggle to feed their children nutritious meals each day. Food costs can rise by hundreds of dollars a month.  FNS’s summer meal programs work to fill this critical gap. 

  • An estimated 14 percent of American households are food insecure – which means about 15.3 million children are living in food insecure households.
  • About 22.1 million children and teens receive free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. But only about 1 in 6 of those (approximately 3.8 million) participate in the summer meal programs.

In the Summer of 2013, the Food and Nutrition Service formed State Technical Assistance Teams (STATs) to work in partnership with State and community agencies to increase participation of eligible children in USDA’s summer meal programs. That year, FNS targeted efforts in five States to improve access to summer meals and, as a result, FNS served seven million more meals than the previous summer. An additional six states were targeted in the Summer of 2014 and FNS met its goal of serving 10 million more meals that the previous summer. For the 2015 STAT project, FNS provided enhanced technical assistance to seven new states (Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and West Virginia), in addition to the six Target States from 2014.

In an effort to test methods for continuing and institutionalizing expansion practices, the Northeast Regional Office’s STAT team elected to implement a sustainable growth model in 2015. The vision for the sustainable growth model consisted of state-led efforts, with support from the Regional Office and cross-regional collaboration. In 2016, FNS added four new Target States (Delaware, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Tennessee), as well as tribal organizations in the Southwest Region.  Additionally, the Northeast Regional Office was joined by the Western Regional Office in implementing the sustainable growth model in a total of 16 states and territories. FNS continued to focus on specific issues including delivery of meals in rural and tribal areas, transportation to meal sites, informing eligible families about the availability of summer meals, and increasing the number of sites in underserved areas.

Moving forward in 2017 and beyond, FNS is focused on maintaining continuity of program operations and access. This can best be accomplished by collaborating with States, who have firsthand experience in determining where to focus their efforts in their communities. FNS is working with States on individualized goals for what success looks like in their communities. This strategy uses lessons learned from previous years to continue work that decreases childhood hunger in the summer months and empowers State agencies to best determine and act on the needs of their communities.

FNS has provided States with a variety of options for focusing program efforts in summer 2017. Some of these options include: reaching under-served communities, retaining experienced sponsors, optimizing number of sites per sponsor, and enhancing meal quality.

Additional Resources

  • Summer Meals Toolkit – This site contains more information on implementing Best Practices for summer.
  • Webinars - Our summer meal programs experts, partners, and special speakers provide great resources, technical guidance examples, and best practices that can make your summer meal programs a success.
  • Capacity Builder - FNS’ capacity builder uses mapping technology and data from a wide variety of sources for Regional Offices, State agencies and partners to determine areas of need and identify potential partners.
  • Program Requirements and Guidance - These handbooks are useful resources for providing program guidance and best practices to sponsors, site supervisors and monitors.
  • Policy Memoranda – FNS policy memoranda provide specific policy guidance on implementing the Summer Food Service Program.