• Libraries are successful summer meal sites in part because of the programs and activities they can offer to enhance the lunch service. The lunch program is an excellent opportunity to introduce families to the great programs and activities they can find at the library and provide learning opportunities for children and teens while school is out. Programs might take place during the lunch service time, before, and/or afterward – depending on the program and on the library’s resources.
  • In the first year, it can be prudent to focus on providing the lunch service and self-directed programming before introducing more in-depth programming in years two or three. For those libraries just starting out, the Lunch at the Library project has worked with Regallium Consulting to create 2 versions of a Self-directed Programming Kit, with accompanying Instruction Guides and “Explore More” Activity Cards:

Programming Box (A)

Programming Box (B)

  • Many Lunch at the Library programs are offered in collaboration with community partners, which enhances the library’s relationship with the community and can save on staff time.
  • For maximum impact, libraries should create programs tailored to the aspirations of the families who come to the library for summer meals.
  • The key to the meaningful programming is to have enough staff available to plan, implement, evaluate and then change the programs if necessary. The programming suggestions below range from self-directed programs and activities that can be implemented with few staff and by volunteers, to more in-depth programming that will require more staff time.

Summer Reading

  • Display books relating to the summer reading theme and to nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyles.

  • Arrange for volunteers to read to children and their caregivers.

  • Sign-up participants and their families for the summer reading program and encourage them to meet their reading goals.

  • Give kids books they can take home after the lunch program.

  • Create a summer reading gameboard or activity station where kids can work on the day’s activities which might include:

    • writing or drawing book reviews;

    • drawing a picture of their librarian;

    • making a mini book;

    • play book bingo;

    • other activities to tie in with the summer reading theme.


  • Set up activity stations and provide items for kids to experiment with, such as: items to weigh and measure; small objects to explore with magnifying glasses; magnets and items that may or may not be magnetic; ramps and items to roll down them; blocks and other building materials.

  • Provide children with opportunities to make items such as book lights, fruit or veggie-powered art, and glow in the dark bookmarks

  • Lead kids through science experiments that engage the senses.

  • Offer programs on nutrition to encourage healthy eating for the whole family.

  • Provide an “app academy” by making available ipads with educational apps on them for kids to use. Ensure that staff is on hand to help kids use the technology effectively.

  • Provide opportunities for children to plant seeds and observe their growth.
  • Offer 3D printer activities.
  • Set up a technology petting zoo.

The Arts

  • Set out crayons and coloring sheets with a healthy eating or summer reading theme.

  • Display kids’ artwork in the room where meals are served.

  • Get kids to design a menu for their dream restaurant.

  • Set up a mural in the lunch service room that kids can contribute to during the summer.

  • Offer activities such as sidewalk chalk, crafts, or sand art

  • Offer craft activities.

  • Bring in experts from local art museums for intensive art programming for children and teens.

  • Bring in a local theater troupe.

  • Set out musical instruments and encourage playing and dancing.

  • Bring in musicians to play during the lunch service.

Literacy, Pre-literacy, and Reading

  • Offer tutoring for children and teens.
  • Provide hands-on guidance through the library’s summer reading program.
  • Distribute free books for families to take home.
  • Display books in the meal room.
  • Make available manipulatives and other activities that encourage pre-literacy skills.
  • Lead sing-a-longs and storytimes.
  • Put out books and magazines for browsing.
  • Provide pre-literacy activities and other programs for parents and caregivers to take part in while their children are eating lunch.

Nutrition and Healthy Eating

  • Offer cooking demonstrations and classes, particularly kid-friendly food preparation demonstrations and classes focusing on ingredients from the lunch menu.

  • Create a seed library and encourage families to use it.

  • Create a community garden for families to take part in.

  • Invite speakers in for programs to help kids become “sugar savvy” and “rethink their drinks” that teach kids about the amount of sugar in soda and nutritional value of foods and drinks.

  • Bring in a “bike juicer” to get kids moving and learn about healthy eating.

  • Create quizzes and coloring worksheets focusing on nutrition.
  • Ask your local public health department if they have playground stencils that will get kids moving before or after the lunch service.
  • Complement your meal program with books that celebrate food and healthy eating and that promote food literacy. Readers to Eaters publishes beautiful books that give a fun perspective on what we eat and how we eat while celebrating a multitude of food cultures.
  • Some resources from USDA include:

Sports and Games

  • Play ball games such as soccer, basketball, or ping pong with kids.

  • Lead “power play” or “Rockin’ Recess” or “Laughing Yoga” activities for the whole family.

  • Issue kids with a hula hoop challenge and have staff and volunteers compete against them.

  • Set out board games that encourage problem solving, predicting an opponent’s next move, socialization, small motor skills, and patience.

  • Set up electronic games, such as the wii, which engage kids and keep them moving.

  • Offer a stuffed animal sleepover for children’s stuffed toys.

  • Provide board games, manipulatives, play-doh, LEGO’s, and duplo’s.
  • Book bingo.

Community Partners

  • Invite guests who can speak with parents/caregivers about topics relevant to the lunch service or summer reading. For example a CalFresh representative, someone from the Department of Parks and Recreation, or someone from a local college or university (and/or their extension program).

  • Invite “community helpers,” e.g. firefighters to do storytimes.

  • Partner with health and wellness organizations to provide health and vision screenings.
  • Partner with multi-lingual agencies to help ensure your program includes all members of the community.
  • Offer a bike rodeo — bike safety and bike repair workshop — with a local bike shop.
  • Offer a bike safety program with the CHP.