Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Lack of summer meal programs concerns state nutritionist

By Lindsey Elliott
Kansas State News and Communications

KANSAS CITY, KAN. — A federal program that helps feed hungry children in the summer is not being used as well as it should be in Kansas — and that concerns a Kansas State University nutritionist.

"There has been a lot of concern because the summer food service program, a well-accepted program offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just isn't getting the launch that it should be having for the number of hungry kids we know are around the country," said Sandy Procter, assistant professor of human nutrition and Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program coordinator. "We are especially concerned for Kansas because we rank as one of the lowest states when it comes to providing summer meals."

Kansas fed summer meals to about 7 out of 100 low-income children in July 2014, according to the annual report from Food Research and Action Center. Currently, 122 summer meal programs are available across the state, which compares to 420 school lunch programs during the school year.

"We know that children's activity only increases in summer, and yet the availability of food through the school breakfast program and school lunch program goes away when the school year ends in May," Procter said. "There's a long time of food insecurity in a lot of families because their food dollars have to stretch quite a bit further when those children aren't able to eat and have regular meals in school. There are a lot of reasons why food isn't available in the home, but the reality is hunger continues for families all year."

Procter encourages communities to consider opening a summer meal program and points out the meals don't have to be served in a school. Volunteers at a library, church or other community organization can receive funding from USDA. It's a service that will not only feed children, but also encourages community involvement, she says.

"This is a really good way to make sure that healthy meals are available and that kids are supervised," Procter said. "There's a communal meal environment, which usually is a really positive environment for a child. There are many positives about offering a summer meal program."

For more information, contact the Kansas Family Nutrition Program, offered at Kansas State University, at 785-532-1675