Despite the abundance of Fresno County’s agriculture production that provides people across the world with nutritious foods, the region has one of the highest food insecurity rates in the nation, and many of those who suffer are children.
In Fresno County, hunger could affect 85,326 kids during the summer months, or 82 percent of schoolchildren who normally benefit from free or reduced-price school lunches during the school year, according to the California Food Policy Advocates.
As the hottest and longest days of summer begin, these children may be wondering when they’ll get enough to eat rather than enjoying the time off from school. Families with kids at home during summer can see expenses increase $300 a month to feed their children, adding financial pressure.
For children, missing out on balanced and reliable meals when school is out can set a cycle for poor health and lower academic achievement, and this is detrimental for everyone.
Proper nutrition should not take a summer vacation from children’s diets, and all kids deserve to have access to healthy meals.
The Journal of Adolescent Health showed a 96 percent correlation between adolescent health-risk behaviors – such as diets low in fruits, vegetables and dairy products – and lower academic success. When children have reliable, nutritious meals, they are set up to perform better in school and, ultimately, life.
There is a solution to fill the summer nutrition gap: While school is out, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s free Summer Food Service Program ensures all children 18 and under have access to free, healthy meals with all five food groups.
Coordinated in California by the California Department of Education, free meal sites are available at more than 60 locations throughout Fresno County and offer meals at breakfast and lunch, with no family documentation needed.
The free Summer Food Service Program is a solution for families who struggle to provide daily healthy meals for their children. Dairy Council of California has partnered with the California Department of Education to urge statewide participation in the free program to bridge the summer hunger gap and encourage healthy eating habits.
The USDA works with partners to develop a Summer Meals Toolkit that helps summer meals sponsors manage volunteers, promote awareness and participation through social media, and offer nutrition education activities to fuel bodies and minds as kids eat free this summer.
Along with improving access to healthy food throughout the entire year, nutrition education programs are also important. By arming our children with nutrition education and food literacy, we help improve their health over the course of their life and break the cycle of food insecurity.
Dairy Council of California and the California Department of Education ask community centers, health centers and parents to spread the word and encourage participation in the Summer Food Service Program. Summer may only last a few months, but children’s health and academic success are too important to overlook.
For nearly a century, the Dairy Council of California has partnered with educators, health professionals and communities with nutrition education programs to elevate the health of children and parents through the pursuit of lifelong healthy eating habits. We must all work together to support the Summer Food Service Program and close the summer nutrition gap for Fresno County’s children.
Tammy Anderson-Wise is chief executive officer of the Dairy Council of California.