Summer meals for healthy kids: enhancing Louisiana’s summer food service program

Summer meals for healthy kids: enhancing Louisiana’s summer food service program

When school is out of session, children facing food insecurity still need access to healthy food. Even when there’s not a pandemic, children and families across Louisiana struggle with summer hunger each year when schools shut their doors and school meals aren’t available. The federally funded Summer Food Service Program can help to fill in the gaps, but Louisiana’s participation rates in that program were low and sinking in the years before the pandemic.

According to a new report from the Louisiana Budget Project and Feeding Louisiana, Louisiana can ensure that children have year-round access to nutritious food, regardless of their family’s finances, by making a concerted effort to increase the scale and reach of its summer meals program. Currently, Louisiana’s summer meals program is near the bottom of the national rankings—below 41 other states (including Washington DC). 

“One in 4 children in Louisiana live in food-insecure households,” said Danny Mintz, anti-hunger policy advocate for the Louisiana Budget Project. “These children rely on the summer meals programs to have enough to eat while school is out of session. But in the last five years, there have been a declining number of children and a declining number of sites in the state that participate in the program.”

The “Childhood Hunger in Louisiana” storymap that accompanies the report illustrates these changes in summer feeding program availability across the state between 2015 and 2019.

To better serve Louisiana’s children throughout the year, the report recommends that Louisiana’s Department of Education:

  • Strengthen efforts to recruit additional program sponsors and sites;
  • Coordinate a robust statewide network of program sponsors and sites to share best practices for program administration, and to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts across the state;
  • Follow best practices to market the program effectively and without stigma to families and kids;
  • Make the program easier for sponsors and sites to administer by simplifying program rules through federal waivers and existing state flexibilities; and,
  • Support sponsors in using creative best practices to reach kids in high-need, hard-to-reach areas

The report also recommends legislative actions at the state and federal level to appropriate funds and codify improvements to the Summer Food Service Program to further support effective implementation across the state of Louisiana.