How Cities Are Helping Children Get The Nutrition They Need

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It’s no secret that city leaders are committed to improving child nutrition and enrichment.

As part of the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) program, over 30 cities are working with the National League of Cities (NLC) to connect kids with better nutrition and enrichment programming — resources that will help them to succeed in school and grow up healthy and strong. These city leaders recognize that only a small percentage of children who rely on free and reduced-price meals during the school day have access to the nutrition they need when school is out, whether that’s in the afternoon, over the weekend, or during school holidays or breaks.

The federally-funded Afterschool Meal Program fills that gap for school-aged children by providing nutritious meals beyond the school day. The fruits, vegetables and other key nutrients children receive from afterschool meals contributes to their healthy growth and development. And for many food-insecure children, an afterschool meal may be the only source of nutrition they have until the next day’s school breakfast.

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CHAMPS cities are demonstrating that local leaders and agencies have a clear role to play in connecting their youngest residents to these vital nutrition and enrichment programs. At recent events in Topeka, Kansas, Russellville, Alabama, and Redlands, California, local officials committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of children by supporting the expansion of Afterschool Meal Programs in their communities. During Russellville’s launch event, Mayor David Grissom said “It’s important both at school and after school, that our children receive healthy, nutritionally-balanced meals that allow them to achieve maximum performance in school.”

In Redlands, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Barich shared similar sentiments, saying, “the greatest thing we can do is to feed our children. It is important for me that our children have the proper nutrition they need to grow up happy, healthy, and able to succeed.” City leaders can be the messengers, addressing food insecurity in the community and sharing locations at which families can find afterschool meal programs for their children, and city agencies can also sponsor or host meal sites at city locations like community centers and libraries.

CHAMPS cities are plugging gaps in programming by offering meal programs directly at city sites when school sites may be closed or at capacity. The City of Topeka is coordinating outreach for Afterschool Meal Program sites and bringing afterschool meals to community centers and other locations throughout the city in partnership with a local food bank. The cities of Redlands and Russellville are both developing and sustaining relationships with their school districts to ensure that afterschool meals are widely available to children throughout their cities. These two cities are partnering with schools to provide meals to children attending tutoring and other enrichment and recreational activities at city community centers.

In addition to providing the nutrition that kids need, afterschool meal programs provide enrichment or educational activities, ensuring that both minds and bodies are being fed. This combination of activities and meals can help draw more children into afterschool programs and bolster their reach and sustainability.

Many afterschool programs serve snacks or meals out of their own budgets, but programs offering meals through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are reimbursed by the federal government. This funding for meals allows afterschool programs to spend more on activities and other program costs and improvements. The reimbursement rate for federal Afterschool Meals is also significantly larger than the reimbursement rate for federal Afterschool Snacks. According to the Food, Research and Action Center (FRAC), programs that serve afterschool meals to as few as 50 children during the 2017-2018 school year could receive almost $30,000 in reimbursement.

There is still work to be done to ensure all children have access to the meals they need when the school day ends, and cities are well-positioned to make this happen. NLC’s CHAMPS project encourages cities to take advantage of the dollars available to them through the federally-funded Afterschool Meal Program, while also providing for their residents most in need.

Check out some highlights from our recent #CACFPChampions Twitter Chat co-hosted by FRAC and the YMCA. And contact NLC if you’re interested in launching afterschool meal programs in your city, or learning more about how to expand participation in your current programs. As Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast asked while announcing the launch of his city’s Afterschool Meal Program, “What could be more important – and what do we want to spend our time and efforts on – than to alleviate childhood hunger?”

dawn-schluckebeir_125x150About the author: Dawn Schluckebier is the principal associate for Economic Opportunity and Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter @TheSchluck.

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