School meals: More important this summer than ever

By Christina Hecht and Jennifer McNeil

Unemployment hits California hard
The California Employment Development Department estimates that unemployment reached nearly 25 percent by mid-May 2020.

In the eight-week period between March 14 and May 14, the EDD processed 4.7 million unemployment benefit claims — nearly seven times more than over a two-month period at the height of the 2008 recession.

Due to the coronavirus-related economic fallout this year, the need for food assistance is likely to be much higher in neighborhoods across the state. That is why, this summer, school meals are more important than ever.

Districts all over California have stepped up to the heroic task of providing meals for children in their communities, despite the challenges that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are closed but school nutrition professionals continue to serve the community.

Learn more about summer meals for children
A new informational flyer, Calling all Districts! USDA Summer Meals Can Keep Kids Healthy, includes two pages of explanations and resources for operating school meal programs this summer through either the Seamless Summer Option or the Summer Food Service Program. This resource was created by a Stanford pediatrician and researchers from University of California’s Nutrition Policy Institute, who teamed up to distill critical information from the US Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Education. They gleaned tips and best practices from districts all around our state and added COVID-19-specific resources from the Community of Practice convened by LunchAssist and the Center for Ecoliteracy.

You or your district’s Child Nutrition Director are also welcome to join the bi-weekly Community of Practice calls by visiting the Center for Ecoliteracy or LunchAssist online.

There is no time to lose. Read the flyer to make sure your district’s food services division is taking advantage of all strategies to support children’s nutrition this summer.

Christina Hecht, PhD, is a senior policy advisor at the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute and Jennifer McNeil, RDN, SNS, is the founder of LunchAssist, an organization providing inspiration, support and guidance to school nutrition professionals.