The County Voice

California Counties Keep Healthy Eating On the Menu For Kids This Summer

Summer Meals Event at California State Capitol included sample meal with foods from all five food groups

Missing out on healthy meals over the summer months can negatively impact children’s health and put them at an academic disadvantage come fall. When schools close for summer break, less than 20 percent of the California’s children who rely on free and reduced meals at school take advantage of USDA’s free Summer Food Service Program (SFSP or summer meals). While California’s counties are increasingly involved with summer meals programs, more can be done to make sure children have access to healthy food while school is out.

Local school districts, city and county agencies, tribal government and community-based organizations offering  summer meals provide free, healthy breakfasts and/or lunches for all kids and teens 18 and under in low-income neighborhoods. Families do not have to supply any paperwork to participate. 

“Summer meal programs are a vital resource for counties to combat childhood food insecurity and risk for chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, while growing more effective inter-agency collaboration,” said Patrice Chamberlain, consultant for the California Libraries Association who currently provides technical assistance to city, county and school leaders to facilitate summer meal collaborations through local libraries. Ms. Chamberlain’s top recommendations for county leaders and departments to help families in their community access summer meals include:

  • Start the conversation with city and school leaders to ensure that there are accessible, welcoming sites in high-need areas;
  • Promote summer meal sites through county communication channels;
  • Find opportunities for collaboration. Local health departments, law enforcement, and other county departments are generating opportunities for community engagement and education in partnership with local summer meal providers.

Summer meal sites that provide engagement activities like STEM or literacy programs tend to have higher participation throughout the summer months. This summer, more than 200 public libraries across California, including 27 county library systems will join the effort by offering summer meals or providing literacy and enrichment activities at other community meal sites. In Kern County, Supervisor and CSAC Immediate Past President Leticia Perez and colleagues support Lunch at the Library by participating in a guest reader program.

San Bernardino County Department of Public Health’s efforts to convene community partners to strengthen collaborations contributed to four county school districts winning awards from USDA, making it the first county to achieve this level of recognition. In the North State region, many county libraries will offer summer meals to support Camp Fire survivor families as they work to regain stability following the fire.

Partners like 2-1-1 Sacramento work closely with local summer meal providers to connect families with information about summer meal programs for children who might otherwise go without access to healthy foods when school is out of session. “Summer meals programming offers low barrier nutrition access for children of all ages while also aligning with the 2-1-1 efforts to promote and connect families to programs like CalFresh and WIC,” said Gabriel Kendall, Director of Community Relations and Program Development for 2-1-1 Sacramento.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program is administered locally by the California Department of Education (CDE). To find a free summer meals location, text FOOD (or COMIDA for Spanish) to 877-877 or download the free CA Meals for Kids app from CDE at These resources are updated weekly, so check back often to find new locations. A list of Lunch at the Library sites is available here.

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