With summer vacation right around the corner, parents and families must exercise every option to ensure their children receive nutritious meals over the summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently issued pandemic flexibilities for schools and daycare facilities through June 2022 to help them continue to provide healthy meals and reopen safely. Families across Florida can and should take advantage of these programs while they exist.
Food insecurity has been an issue for many families in underserved communities for decades. The pandemic has only exacerbated this issue for many families who have difficulties feeding their children.
In fact, according to a recent report by Feeding America, Central Florida/Tampa Bay will likely see some of the worst food insecurity in children this year. Florida’s 11th district, for example, is projected to have the fifth-highest levels of low food security among children in the United States. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Not only will Florida schools be able to provide meals to families throughout the summer thanks to the USDA’s extension, but these meals are also overwhelmingly healthful and nutritious.
A recent study from Tufts University found that in 2018, schools were the single healthiest source of U.S. food consumed across a sample of children and adults. The study also found that diet quality for foods from schools improved significantly from a similar research study conducted in 2003-2004.
These results will continue to improve under the direction of new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. As he recently said, the USDA’s action “increases the reimbursement rate to school meal operators to serve healthy foods to our kids. It’s a win-win for kids, parents, and schools.”
I know the impact these meal programs can have first-hand. Previously in my professional career, I had the opportunity to work as a program coordinator and dietary manager in a school district. In this role, I was able to see children and families daily who were helped by the school food service program. All of this came full circle when I served as a nutritionist for an Early/Head start program at a nonprofit.
More personally, I remember growing up in the projects of the inner cities with my siblings and friends, and how we relied on school meals as a crucial source of food. Whether it was breakfast or lunch, those meals served a purpose and staple in ensuring we had eaten throughout the day. We looked forward to the meals during the school year, but I would have to say we enjoyed the meals more during the summer.
I remember how we used to ride our bikes to our local school sites, community centers and local churches to get our breakfast, lunch, and snacks. We had fun as friends and enjoyed the summer without worrying about when our next meal would come. I hope today’s children can have similar moments this summer, despite the ongoing threats of COVID-19.
The USDA’s recent waivers make it easier than ever for families to provide healthful and nutritious meals for their children all summer long. The waivers will allow for safe meal distribution sites that serve all children for free, regardless of income. They will also allow meals to be served outside of the normal required group settings and mealtimes, and for parents and guardians to pick up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.
Local families must know about these new rules. Families in the Central Florida/Tampa Bay region can take advantage of the summer feeding programs at school districts in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. There are also community centers, food banks and more who will also serve and participate. Parents, please take advantage and ensure every child can grab a nutritious meal this summer.
Carvis C. Durr is a graduate teaching assistant and doctoral student of sociology at the University of Central Florida. He is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.