From Fresh from the Farm - Using Local Foods in the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs
Food is an important part of any quality afterschool or summer program. It helps attract children to the program and ensures that they have the energy to fully participate in all of the educational and enrichment activities. The nutrition quality and appeal of the meals and snacks is crucial.
Providing healthy meals and snacks is particularly important given the rapidly increasing prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. Children on average are not consuming the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. Since 1980 the number of young people who are overweight has more than tripled, with 31 percent of school-age children overweight or obese. Obesity is linked to lower academic achievement, depression, and chronic health problems. By providing healthy food, nutrition programs can play a critical role in preventing obesity and improving overall health. These programs can model healthy eating habits, teach nutrition, introduce children to nutritious foods they have never tried before, and replace a less healthy afterschool snack with a nutritious alternative.
One creative strategy to improve quality and appeal is to make local produce part of the meals and snacks, and Farm to School programs are one key strategy to do that. There now are more than 1,000 Farm to School programs in schools across the country. These schools include local produce from nearby farms as part of their breakfast and lunch offerings. Afterschool and summer programs are just starting to explore the Farm to School program as a way of incorporating local produce and provide healthier, more child-friendly food. Serving local produce can have positive effects for children, farmers, and the community.
Federal funding for meals and snacks is available to schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofits that serve low-income children and can help support Farm to School initiatives. The National School Lunch Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program are federal programs available to help cover the cost of providing healthy food to children participating in out-of-school time programs. Afterschool and summer programs interested in participating in the federal
nutrition programs should contact the state child nutrition agency for more information on how to enroll. A complete list of state agencies is available at www.frac.org/afterschool.
There are nutritional guidelines for the afterschool and summer nutrition programs based upon four components: milk, fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein. The
nutritional guidelines help to ensure that children are eating nutritious meals and snacks. Including locally produced foods in the menus is a great way to make the meals
and snacks more appealing to children.
Afterschool and summer programs will need to determine how to access local products for their program. This guide outlines strategies and approaches for accessing local products such as working with an organization that is already using local produce, collaborating with the area school food service director or operating the Farm to School program independently.