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Hunger Relief When the School Day Ends

In the February 2013 issue of School Nutrition, author Cecily Walters examined summer feeding programs that provide breakfast, lunch and snack—or a combination thereof—to kids during the long break from school. However, school districts can do even more to close the hunger gap by participating in afterschool snack or supper programs.

School nutrition operations can provide afterschool snacks to students through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the National School Lunch Program. USDA identifies the following types of afterschool programs that can participate in CACFP’s At-Risk Afterschool Meal Program:

  • Public or private nonprofit organizations or eligible for-profit organizations operating an afterschool program.
  • Programs must be located in an attendance area of a public school where at least 50% of the enrolled students are certified as eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
  • Programs must provide educational or enrichment activities in an organized, structured and supervised environment after the end of the school day, on weekends or on holidays during the school year.

In addition to offering snacks, the CACFP provides funds to serve meals (i.e., “supper”) to children age 18 and under during the school year who participate in approved afterschool programs. These meals can be served at any time during the afterschool program, either at a traditional dinner time or immediately when the students arrive after school. Meals may be served in addition to or instead of a snack, depending on the length of the afterschool program. Programs that also operate on weekends or during school holidays may provide the appropriate meal.

Snacks and afterschool meals must meet federally mandated nutrition standards. According to informational materials on the At-Risk Afterschool Meal Program, sample snacks include string cheese, whole-wheat crackers and water and pretzels and fat-free or lowfat milk. Sample suppers served include baked chicken with steamed broccoli, apple slices, whole-wheat roll and fat-free or low fat milk and grilled cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread with oven-baked sweet potato fries, plum and fat-free or lowfat milk.

Erik Peterson, policy director for the Afterschool Alliance, shares the importance and success of the At-Risk Afterschool Meal Program. “Afterschool providers report that offering an afterschool meal increases the likelihood of consistent student attendance at programs, while young people report that the meals, often served around 3 p.m., are much needed following school lunch, which often is served before 11 a.m.,” he explains. And many communities are recognizing the value of such programs. “Across the country, we are seeing great partnerships forming between school nutrition programs, food banks and community-based afterschool providers, aimed at nourishing our young people in the hours after school,” says Peterson.

Leah Schmidt, SNS, child nutrition director for Hickman Mills School District, Kansas City, Mo., has made suppers available for students since 2009, when CACFP’s supper program was available only as a pilot in select states. In a survey her program conducted for the Missouri Association for Social Welfare about the value of the district’s supper program, parents cited the following reasons that the program is important for them and their children:

  • “The supper provides a nutritious meal to [my] child when I can’t.”
  • “[The program] provides healthy food my children enjoy eating and need.”
  • “Students [can] eat at school since I get off work late.”
  • “The program helps lower my food costs, and my child enjoys eating with her friends.”

All meals and snacks served in CACFP afterschool programs will earn reimbursement at the “free” rate. To apply to participate in an afterschool feeding program, contact your state agency.

For more details about these programs, including a list of qualified educational and enrichment activities, see www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/care/Publications/pdf/At-Risk_Afterschool_Meals.pdf