Money Saving 301

Free Summer Meal Programs for Kids

June 12, 2024

Where to Find Free Summer Meal Programs

It’s tough enough to think of school lunch ideas for children during the school year, but what about during summer? Most school children look forward to summer, but it can also result in being hungry for some. According to Feeding America, 13 million children are food insecure in the United States. This means that one out of every five kids are unsure where they’ll be getting their next meal. Once summer vacation begins, parents who depend on their kids receiving up to five of their weekday meals from school may have trouble keeping their young children fed. Online searches like, “free meals near me” and “summer programs for kids” are on the rise.

Fortunately, there are national organizations such as No Kid Hungry and Feeding America, as well as other local groups working to keep children fed during the summer break with free summer meal programs. Summer food doesn’t have to be a struggle. Read on to learn more about accessing these programs in your area.   

Visit the USDA to Find Free Meals in Your Area

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates a food service program over the summer that's funded by the federal government and run by each state. The program covers the cost of free meals and snacks for children who live in low-income parts of the country.

To find out where you can take advantage of this program in your area, visit the USDA Summer Meal Site Finder. Once on the site, enter your full address, hit enter, and the finder will return a list of free meal sites for you. You'll also be able to find information on days and times the meals are available as well as contact information for the sites and their locations.

In most cases, free meals provided by the USDA are available for hungry kids who are 18 years old or younger. If you can’t find a place close by, call the USDA hotline for more options, which should offer solutions in addition to searching, “free lunches near me.”

Check With Your School District for Free Summer Lunches

The Department of Education offers state-specific information about where to find local Summer Food Service Programs. Each state’s program has a different name (like Meet Up, Summer Meals, or Eat Up). However, they all feature similar food offerings.

To find out if your school district offers free summer meals, do an online search using the name of your child’s school district and the term “summer meal,” or “summer lunch,” and you should find helpful information about free summer meal programs. These programs may be held at:

  • Schools
  • Community centers
  • Parks
  • Playgrounds
  • Mobile locations

Some of the sites will also post sample menus so you can check to see what is available on different days.

Find Summer Meal Programs Via Text

Another helpful option for feeding hungry kids in the summer is to text for information on a summer meal program near you. Simply text the word “food” to 877-877. After hitting "send," an automatic reply will ask you for your full address. Once you enter your location, you’ll receive a response with data about nearby free summer meals that are available to children 18 and under.

The text service is available in English and Spanish. Standard message and data rates may apply.

Visit Your Local Food Bank for Free Summer Meals

Feeding America has established a countrywide food bank network that sets up different free summer food programs. You can find out what’s available in your area by visiting your local food bank or searching by zip code or state. Most locations have a simple map tool that you can use to participate in programs like Picnic in the Park, Kids Café, and School Pantry.

Some food banks also set up mobile pantries. These are trucks that bring free boxes of food to communities in need. Your local food bank may be able to give you more information about the free summer meal programs that are available in your city and operated by charities and other nonprofit organizations.

Check Your State’s Government Site

Visit your state’s government site for food assistance. Official state websites can tell you where local food pantries and food box programs are located. They can also provide information to help you register for programs like SNAP and WIC. That way, you can get the additional help you may qualify for year-round.

Local government sites can also provide information on nutrition and food preparation, which can help you learn how to get the most nutritional value from the foods you feed yourself and your loved ones in an affordable way.

Official government sites usually have a list of food resources and free meals that are available in your city, so be sure to check if you need a little extra help keeping your children fed.

Turn to Local Churches for Meals During Summer Vacation

Churches, temples, synagogues and other religious organizations in your area may also provide free meals over summer vacation. The easiest way to pinpoint who offers them is to search online. Much like government programs, church programs are usually limited to children who are 18 years old or younger. Be sure to check the days of the week that free meals are served, as they are often only offered Monday through Friday.

Taking advantage of the various ways in which you can secure free summer meals for hungry kids can help lessen the burden for you and your family. There are many organizations devoted to the effort of keeping your children happy and healthy.

Summer Meal Programs FAQs

What are summer meal programs?

Summer meal programs are initiatives designed to provide free meals to children and teenagers during the summer months when school is not in session. These programs aim to ensure that children who rely on school meals during the academic year do not go hungry when school is out.

Where are summer meal programs?

Meals are served at sites such as schools, community centers, parks, libraries, churches, temples, synagogues, and other community-based locations. These sites are chosen based on areas of need, often targeting communities where a significant percentage of children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

Where to find summer meal programs?

Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) summer meals for kids site finder. The finder is updated every Friday through the summer. Results include both eat-on-site locations and meals-to-go.

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