Summer Meals are Ripe for Local Foods and Activities

In most regions of the US, local harvests peak in the warmest months, just as the school year draws to a close. Luckily for local farmers, kids, and their communities, school districts and nonprofit sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meal Programs are making the most of summer’s bounty.

22% of school districts participating in farm to school said they also include local foods in meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), Seamless Summer Option (SSO), or the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during the summer months. That’s 1,039 districts bringing the farm to summer meal programs! Local foods and related activities reinforce the healthy habits that schools encourage all year long. Kids stay nourished while school is out, and are energized and ready to learn when the new school year starts.

During the summer, many Delaware schools extend the National School Lunch Program or offer the Summer Food Service Program. The summer is the prime growing season in Delaware, so students are exposed to a wide assortment of local produce that include sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, and a variety of squash.

Laurel School District, DE

Tapping into summer’s harvest helps boost meal quality and appeal

All around the country, school districts are developing new recipes that showcase the season’s harvest. Serving fruits and vegetables at their peak freshness contributes to the quality, variety, and appeal of meals served that will keep kids and teens coming back for more.

Not only has Diane [Food Service Director, Kanawha County Schools] found her farm to school program to be a helpful tool in implementing the new meal standards, she has extended her local purchasing to schools in the district that run a summer feeding program. She focuses on lettuce and tomatoes in the summer, and has found the quality and student appeal to be much higher for those items in the summer time.

WV Department of Education

FUN, HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES HELPS KIDS STAY ACTIVE WHILE SCHOOL IS OUT

Summer sponsors are pairing local foods with fun, hands-on activities that attract and engage kids in their programming. Local foods tie into numerous activities that help kids understand where their food comes from and build healthy eating habits. Farm to summer activities include:

  • Growing or visiting school or community gardens
  • Conducting taste tests and cooking demonstrations
  • Taking farm field trips
  • Hosting local farmers at meal sites
  • Promoting nutrition lessons focused on local foods
  • Celebrating the season with local foods-focused kick-offs or events

FARM TO SUMMER BENEFITS THE WHOLE COMMUNITY

  • Sponsors increase participation at open sites by improving the quality of meals and offering fun activities
  • School food service directors test out purchasing methods, recipes, and make sure that menus featuring local foods are kid approved before hitting the lunch line
  • Schools reinforce healthy habits promoted during the school-year, contributing to consistent, year-round farm to school programming
  • Local producers benefit from a reliable outlet for their products during the summer months
  • Kids and teens access fresh, nutritious meals and experiential learning activities at meal sites, and return to school ready to learn