summer meals
Local educational agencies encouraged to sponsor meals for children during summer break
June 1 is the deadline for a range of institutions to apply to be summer meal providers. The need is critical, with many low-income students lacking access to fresh, healthy meals when school is out during the summer months.
Ensuring access to healthy school meals is seen as vital to reducing the achievement gap, boosting daily attendance and cutting down on childhood health issues such as obesity. Researchers have found that poor nutrition can negatively affect student well-being and impact academic performance. Studies also show that undernourishment has been linked to poor standardized test scores, low attendance and increased behavioral issues.
“For children who participate in the National School Lunch Program during the school year, food insecurity during the summer is a serious issue.”
—Tom Torlakson,
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
“Hunger is a huge distraction — it’s hard to learn on an empty stomach,” said Julie Maxwell-Jolly, CSBA senior director of policy and programs. “Summer food programs keep students well-nourished so they return to school healthy and ready to learn.” 

According to the California Food Policy Advocates, an Oakland-based nonprofit, 85 percent of students in California, or more than 1.7 million children, who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year miss out on similar sustenance during the summer.

  • Summer food programs are especially important for low-income students.
“For children who participate in the National School Lunch Program during the school year, food insecurity during the summer is a serious issue,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “Summer access to healthy and nutritious meals helps kids return to school prepared to learn. We need organizations to participate as summer meal providers to help feed children who are in need.”
Organizations can apply to offer summer meals through the California Department of Education. Participants are reimbursed for the costs, and summer meal sites must be located in communities where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Organizations eligible to participate include schools, camps, nonprofits, tribal governments and government agencies. For families concerned about immigration status, CFPA says it is important for sponsors to make clear that students do not have to disclose family history information to receive meals.

The CDE provides several pathways for schools and nonprofit organizations to provide summer meals, including the Seamless Summer Option. The SSO is a program that encourages more public school districts and county offices of education to provide meals in low-income areas during summer and certain other school vacation periods. It reduces paperwork and administrative burdens, making it easier for sponsors to feed children.

The funding also helps bring in revenue to local communities that are often high-poverty areas. During the 2016–17 school year, for example, a recent analysis for the California Department of Food and Agriculture found that this support equaled more than $2 billion. “The buying power this represents and the potential impact on the economy and the environment go far beyond the agricultural sector,” the report by the UC Berkeley Institute of Urban and Regional Development said, pointing in particular to the importance of purchasing locally sourced ingredients. School kitchens using local ingredients can also help producers cut down on food waste by buying perfectly edible but noncommercial goods, such as fruit that is cosmetically too small for markets. (The CDE also has new guidance available on how schools can cut down on their own costly food waste.)

To learn more about the CDE Summer Meals Program, or to apply to be a sponsor, visit: