Healthy Meals for Children During the Hungriest Time of Year

By Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

The school year is almost over and summer is right around the corner. Many families start thinking of all of the great food gatherings summer has in store — barbeques, picnics, food truck events, family dinners and trips to Ted Drewes — not worrying about getting enough to eat.

For the nearly 173,000 local children at risk for hunger in our region, summer can’t go by quickly enough. One in six people in the St. Louis region face difficulties and stress caused by poverty, hunger and food insecurity every day. An alarming percentage of these people are children. Sadly, during the summer months, some children don’t always get enough to eat.

With families and caretakers struggling to get by, it will cost an average low-income household an additional $300 per month to feed their children during the summer. Food insecurity can lead to health and behavioral problems. It can cause children to be at risk for childhood obesity, a complex issue often induced by low-cost, low-nutrient, calorie dense foods.

Every child deserves an equal chance to thrive and achieve. Operation Food Search (OFS) is helping more kids get the nourishment they need through our sponsorship of free summer meals for children 18 years and under, under the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a resource of the USDA.

We are helping to lessen the nutritional gap that extends from when school ends until it begins again in the fall by connecting thousands of children to healthy food, while they enjoy fun activities that stimulate their minds during the summer.

Last year, OFS sponsored 72,000 lunchtime meals free to kids through innovative partnerships with several St. Louis County Library branches, boys and girls clubs, summer camp programs, low-income housing complexes and a host of our member agency sites.

Operation Food Search is fostering well-balanced, nutritious lunchtime meals of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and calcium-rich milk, in safe, comfortable environments. This summer, we are expanding meal opportunities at different times of the day – traditional and non-traditional meal times – to best meet the needs of the children in our community.

By providing nutritious meals for children at safe, easily accessible sites, many which offer opportunities to spend quality time with family, make new neighborhood friends and participate in a wide-array of after-lunch activities and enrichment programs, we hope that more children will enjoy a memorable and successful hunger-free summer!

Do you know a family who could benefit from free summer meals for their children? Please refer them!

Families in need of summer meals to feed children ages 2 – 18 may text FOOD to 877-877 for a listing of summer meals sites. Meal sites will be updated throughout the summer, so please check frequently or as needed.