As today marks the first day of summer, we have many things to look forward to—lazy afternoons at the pool, ice cream trucks, family barbeques, fireworks, and my favorite fruit—watermelon. But for many children in the nation, today marks the beginning of a summer filled with hunger.
For many children in low-income families, the only meals of actual nutritious quality they receive on a daily basis are provided by their schools through federal school meal programs such as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Afterschool Meal program, and the Child and Adult Care Food program. When school ends, so do these programs. The federal government does have a Summer Food program established, but unfortunately only a mere 11% of children who receive the provided lunches during the school year participate in this summer feeding program. And with the economic recession, even more children will be scavenging for food this summer.
Not only do many children go hungry during the summer, but children are also forced to consume food low in nutrition quality and high in fats and calories—as these types of foods are also cheaper. It should not be surprising then that obesity rates among children are higher in the summer.
At this time especially, reauthorization of child nutrition programs becomes crucial. Both the bills released by the House and Senate expand access to these feeding programs and improve the nutrition standards for foods being served. While the House bill provides greater funding for these programs—$8 billion instead of the Senate’s $4.5 billion over 10 years—our greatest priority now is to simply get these bills passed.
Though the summer break from school is my personal favorite time of the year, for many children the start of school—and school meal programs—cannot come soon enough.