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Using Local Foods and Related Activities

Summer meal sponsors and sites from coast to coast are increasingly bringing local and regional produce onto the menu and teaching kids where their food comes from. With harvests at their peak and farms in full production, summer is a perfect time to highlight local products and feature food, agriculture, and nutrition education in summer meal site programming.

Spotlight on Kalispell, Montana

You are sure to find children and teens enjoying lots of locally grown foods at Kalispell Public Schools’ summer Meal sites! Breakfast and lunch menus emphasize scratch cooking and local food whenever possible. Local farms and greenhouses supply fresh lettuce, carrots, peas, cabbage, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries. A local meat processor supplies local polish hot dogs, breakfast links, and beef patties. Serving meals that are kids’ summer favorites, like hot dogs and hamburgers and fresh fruit, with a healthy twist, pleases everyone! Many parents and community members commend the program and the menu for the diversity of foods and the quality of freshness.

The summer months are also a great time to make the most of school garden produce, serving meals from the garden and engaging kids in agriculture-based activities. Kalispell Public Schools also adds an abundance of produce to menus through partnerships with the local college’s sustainable agriculture and community supported agriculture programs.

Spotlight on Marion, OH

Aligning summer meals with school gardens is an excellent way to tap into existing resources to create fun, hands-on activities that attract kids to your program!

Marion City School District’s Food Service Director Winnie Brewer and her team know that nutrition and learning loss often unfortunately go hand in hand for kids while school is out. So they work hard to ensure that meals are offered alongside enriching activities that keep kids both nourished and active while school is out. And they looked no further than the raised beds in their own backyard to make it happen.

During meal time, children at all six of the city’s elementary school meal sites participate in gardening activities like watering, weeding, and harvesting, learning about where their food comes from. Master Gardeners volunteer during meal times and give parents and children free gardening lessons. And to ensure that healthy habits continue at home, the district runs a weekly fresh produce market, made possible through a partnership with the Mid Ohio Food Bank. Each week, about 350 families go home with a bag of fresh produce and guidance on how to prepare healthy meals at home. Tapping into existing community resources like school gardens and mobile food pantries not only boosts summer meal participation, but it also equips children and families with the tools they need to build and maintain healthy eating habits.

Lessons learned:

  • Seek out locations of existing school gardens in your area, and align summer meal site locations to keep both the gardens and children thriving during summer months!
  • Reach out to local organizations like Master Gardeners, community garden organizations, food banks, food pantries, and more to align your programming with other access points for local foods and related activities.
  • Tap into volunteers with subject area expertise to offer your children fun, hands-on activities; extra points for those that get parents engaged.

For more tips on including agriculture-based activities in your summer meal program, please visit FNS’ Farm to Summer website.

What worked to make summer meals a success?

  • Community locations near existing school gardens.
  • Ability to leverage community resources; and
  • Strong partners and volunteers.

Want to learn more? Go to the summer toolkit!

Page updated: November 22, 2023