The Need for Healthy Summer (and other) Meals

  • Food insecurity has a devastating toll on people’s health. It has economic costs for the cities, counties, states, and the nation, and it costs us in terms of educational outcomes, labor productivity, crime rates, Gross Domestic Product, and more. “The overall costs of hunger and food insecurity to society may well be incalculable.”14
  • Without access to the nutrition provided by the National School Lunch Program, food insecurity increases during the summer break.1
  • Good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of life, is important in establishing and maintaining a good foundation that has implications on a child’s future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity. Unfortunately, food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens that critical foundation.2
  • According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 16.7 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. Although food insecurity is harmful to any individual, it can be particularly devastating among children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences.2
  • During the school year, thousands of low-income students eat free or reduced-price meals at schools. But when school is out and kids aren’t receiving that food, children face higher risks for hunger and malnutrition. Summer meals help to fill that gap, so kids have the nutritious food they need to stay healthy all summer.3
  • In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.2
  • In 2011, 14.9 percent of households (17.9 million households) were food insecure.2
  • In 2011, 5.7 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.2
  • In 2011, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2 percent.2
  • In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).2
  • Food insecurity exists in every county in America.2
  • Children may gain two to three times as much weight during the summer than during the school year.1
  • Children who eat a healthy breakfast achieve more positive educational outcomes than those who do not.13

The Need for Summer Enrichment and Learning Opportunities

  • All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).4
  • Low-income youth may fall further behind in academic skills during the summer break, experiencing greater “summer learning loss” than their higher-income peers and widening the achievement gap.1
  • Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996).4
  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).4
  • Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Duffett et al, 2004).4

Public Library Summer Meal Sites Feed Bodies and Minds

  • When young people aren’t engaged in educational activities during the summer, they experience learning loss.5
  • Reading just 5 books over the summer can prevent summer learning loss.6
  • Students who participated in a summer reading program had better reading skills at the end of third grade and scored higher on standardized tests than students who did not participate.7
  • Children who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers. Summer Reading programs encourage young children and families to read regularly and libraries provide access to reading materials year round.8
  • Rich, engaging and free educational activities like summer reading programs are excellent tools to address the achievement gap.  More than half of the achievement gap between lower and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.9
  • Children living in poverty are more likely to lose reading skills over the summer than children whose families are more affluent. Regular access to public libraries can make the difference between their summer setback and summer success.8,10
  • Ensuring that books are available to any child at any time of the year is a necessary step towards closing the reading achievement gap.11

Additional Resources

California Department of Education’s Nutrition Services Division: administers the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Child Nutrition Programs and the Food Distribution Program in California.
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC): the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and under-nutrition in the United States.National Summer Learning Association: connecting and equipping schools, providers, communities, and families to deliver high-quality summer learning opportunities to our nation’s youth to help close the achievement gap and support healthy development.
USDA Summer Food Service Program: established to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Free meals, that meet Federal nutrition guidelines, are provided to all children at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.


  1. “Why Summer Meals,” California Summer Meal Coalition, accessed April, 11, 2013,
  2. “Hunger and Poverty Statistics,” Feeding America, accessed Aril 12, 2013,
  3. “Free Summer Meals For Kids,” Coalition Against Hunger, accessed April 11, 2013,
  4. “Know The Facts,” National Summer Learning Association, accessed April 11, 2013,
  5. Fairchild, Ron. “Summer: A Season When Learning is Essential.” Afterschool Alliance. Center for Summer Learning. 2008. Web. <>
  6. Fairchild, Ron. “Summer: A Season When Learning is Essential.” Afterschool Alliance. Center for Summer Learning. 2008. Web. <>
  7. “Let’s Read Let’s Move.” United We Serve. The White House. n.d. Web.
  8. Susan Roman, Deborah T. Carran, and Carole D. Fiore. “The Dominican Study: Public Library Summer Reading Programs Close the Reading Gap.” Dominican University Graduate School of Library & Information Science. 2010. Web. <>
  9. Hernandez, Donald J. “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation.” The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. 2012. Web. <>.
  10. “Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning.” Home Room: The Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education. n.d. Web. <>
  11. Kim, Jimmy. “Summer Reading and the Ethnic Achievement Gap.” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR). 2004. Web. <>
  12. Richard L. Allington, Anne McGill-Franzen et al. “Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students.” Reading Psychology. 2010. Web. <>
  13. Hannah J. Littlecott et al. “Association Between Breakfast Consumption and Educational Outcomes in 9-11-Year-Old Children.” Public Health Nutrition. August, 2015.
  14. “2016 Hunger Report. The Nourishing Effect: Ending Hunger, Improving Health, Reducing Inequality.” Bread for the World Institute. 2015. Web. Accessed 12/4/15.