How Can I Find Free Summer Meal Programs for Kids?

Free breakfast and lunch is available in parks, schools, and sometimes by food truck for kids across the country. Photo courtesy of Share Our Strength
Free breakfast and lunch is available in parks, schools, and sometimes by food truck for kids across the country. Photo courtesy of Share Our Strength

Many parents rely on the free breakfast and lunch available through the local school system to keep their kids' engines running—but what happens in the summer? Thankfully, there are still free meal programs available when school lets out.

Parents will find free breakfast, lunch, and sometimes afternoon snacks and more meals served up at certain parks, schools, community centers, hospitals, and elsewhere this summer. Many of the summer meal programs are federally funded through the USDA's Summer Food Service Program, but administered by local organizations, cities, or states. Read on for tips on how to find a free kids meal near you.

According to Feeding America, 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but during the summer that number drops to 3.76 million. Problems like a lack of access to meal sites, low-program awareness, and limited resources during the summer months, all play a part in making summer the hungriest time of year.

The good news is that under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), qualified child care centers, after-school programs, and some institutions like hospitals are enabled to offer free meals and/or snacks to children and teenagers 18 and under. Even libraries have gotten into the action, with hundreds now serving lunch to children in need. 

Visit the USDA website to search for a Summer Meals Program site location near you by entering your address or searching via its mapping tool. Parents can also text “Summer Meals” to 97779 or call 1-866-348-6479 to find a meal site in their area. The USDA's Summer Meals Program served about 1.5 million meals and snacks last summer.

Most programs affiliated with schools and community groups allow families to show up (no need to register). "Summer can be the hungriest time of year for kids who depend on school meals like breakfast and lunch," Derrick Lambert, program manager at Share Our Strength, the organization that runs No Kid Hungry, told us. “In fact, 6 out of 7 kids receiving school lunch don’t get the summer meals they need. To make sure kids have enough to eat, No Kid Hungry also runs a summer meal texting service that connects families to existing meal sites in the community. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers can text ‘FOOD’ or ‘COMIDA’ to 877-877 to find free summer meal sites in their neighborhoods, open to anyone 18 years or younger.”

Feed America has summer meal programs and a search site to help families find them. This can also help to locate a local food pantry to help you restock the shelves. The YMCA also has over 2,500 free summer food programs across America.

So, wondering where are there free meals for kids and teens in your city? Check below. 

Free Summer Meals Programs for Kids By City

  • Find the free Lunch Bus for Chicago kids through the Chicago Food Bank or look into the free LunchStop program at outdoor school locations through Chicago Public Schools.
  • Find free breakfast and lunch in New York City this summer for the kids through this extensive city meals program that dishes up food at NYC public schools and elsewhere.
  • Philadelphia serves up free summer breakfast and lunch at various local schools, city parks, and more family spots. Just text 'MEALPA' to 877-877 or call 1-855-252-MEAL to find the nearest site.
  • Find free meals for kids at over 100 parks in Los Angeles, or through the federal Summer Food Service Program at schools, community centers, and more.
  • Breakfast and lunch are available for free at over 250 school sites from June 5 to July 3 Monday through Thursday in Houston. Adults can enjoy a discounted meal and dine with their kids at this Parks & Rec. program. Find more Houston-area meals for kids through the federal Summer Food Service Program, including community centers, fire stations, and more.
  • Find a summer meal site through the Child Nutrition Outreach Program in and around Boston or text 'COMIDA' to 877-877. 
  • Summer meals are served to kids at schools and more locations in Washington, DC, starting in late June. 

Remember, there are places to find a solid, nutritious meal for your child this summer. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Text or call the numbers listed above, and local food pantries and churches can often help, too. Additionally, ask at your local library or town office where you can find help for your kids this summer.

Find more free places to eat with kids year-round and even free fun things to do in your local Mommy Poppins Free Activities Guide.

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