Most of the time, SNP means the obvious to school nutrition professionals—School Nutrition Programs. But what about the other SNP, Summer Nutrition Programs? Child nutrition doesn’t end with the school year. The Seamless Summer Option (SSO) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) fill a crucial gap to ensure that children can access healthy meals year-round.
School and district commitment to a summer nutrition program is especially important now as participation is expected to drop again without critical federal waivers put in place during the pandemic.1 Whether your district operates SSO or SFSP, provides catering to sponsors operating a summer program, or partners with community organizations, a close partnership with the school district and summer sponsors is critical.
How to choose between SSO or SFSP summer nutrition programs
Schools can choose to participate in either the SSO or the SFSP. Although both fund summer meals served to students, one may better suit your needs than the other. Deciding which program offers the right meal reimbursement schedule for your school or district and compliance requirements calls for a few considerations.
The SSO provides a straight-forward approach for schools and districts already participating in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program. It offers less paperwork and reimburses schools for meals served free of charge at the free rates for lunch, breakfast, and afterschool snacks. The tradeoff is that these reimbursement rates are slightly lower than the SFSP rates.
The SFSP supports schools sponsoring enrichment, recreational, or activity programs during summer vacation. State agencies reimburse sponsors for meals provided free of charge at approved sites in underserved areas. This program allows sponsors to earn the maximum reimbursement rates, and then use the money as needed to enhance their food program.
While the SSO essentially means continuing your school nutrition program’s normal operations through the summer, the SFSP requires schools to consider important decisions for success.
Tips for SFSP summer nutrition program success
- How are you advertising and promoting your program?
- A frequently updated nutrition website can publish important details about summer sites and service hours.
- How will you prepare and serve meals—in a central kitchen or onsite?
- Consider equipment efficiency, transportation, and location-specific reimbursements when deciding where to prepare and serve meals.
- Are there special food safety and storage considerations in the summer?
- Your summer climate, service locations, and menu choices may require additional cold storage, for example. Purchasing this equipment ahead of time can save costs by reducing waste.
While you may have your summer meal sites set, consider evaluating shortly after starting to determine if these sites are optimal. When deciding on a site location, it’s important to consider meeting children where they are. Transportation has been found to be a significant barrier to participation2 with some suggesting sites should be located less than five miles within where families live or work.3 If one site isn’t serving as many meals as others, you could make it more accessible by either changing the serving location to a more prominent, visible spot at the site.
Get the word out about your summer nutrition program
If your school or district serves meals throughout the summer, or if other community organizations do, communicating that information to families and students is vital. They need to know they’ll have access to nutritious meals over the summer and how to receive them. You can take a few easy steps to support awareness and facilitate participation.
Tips to promote your summer nutrition program
- Spotlight summer meals on your nutrition webpage—ask community partners to provide an ad to place on your webpage . Or embed the USDA Summer Meals for Kids Site Finder on your nutrition homepage
- Send students home for the summer with information on how to access school meals
- Pitch your summer nutrition program as a story to local news outlets
- Share information on social media—think outside the box! Collaborate with student organizations, school board members, and the PTA to reach their audiences and expand your reach
Research finds that sponsors rely on advertising as a primary form of marketing the SFSP, followed by public relations. Focus advertising on places where your audience can easily find and save it—such as placing in an advertisement in Spanish in a Hispanic publication.4
Spreading the word on summer meals increases participation and ensures that children receive healthy meals after the school year ends.
Your nutrition program can cater summer meals to generate revenue
Schools and districts frequently offer catering during the school year for things like school meetings, athletic events, or other school-related events such as parent-teacher conferences.
Your catering program can extend beyond the school year by providing meals and snacks for sponsors participating in a summer nutrition program. If your school district opts not to operate as a sponsor for a summer nutrition program, your district can still generate revenue by providing catering to participating community organizations. Catering for summer nutrition programs allows your kitchens to continue operations while giving your team a break from managing and operating a federal nutrition program.
An easy-to-use and simple online ordering platform is key to successful catering operations. Consider a system that makes it easy for organizations to select meals and enter quantities for each day. Allowing organizations to place orders, whether weekly or monthly, makes it easier on everyone to track meal delivery and meal preparation. A school food service catering software, such as LINQ’s Online Ordering can streamline your catering operations for both the nutrition staff as well as organizations partnering to receive meals from your kitchens.
Catering summer meals is an easy way to help support summer meals and keep your kitchens operating all summer without the administrative burden that comes with operating federal summer nutrition programs.