Summer is just around the corner, and for some of us that means beaches, lakes, and time with family. For others who participate in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), summer merely signifies the end of one serving period and the beginning of another.
Hunger doesn’t stop when that final class bell rings. In fact, serving children healthy, nutritious meals in the summer takes on an even greater importance when you learn that kids are most likely to gain weight during the summer months.
Chances are that by now, you know whether or not your district is planning to participate in a local SFSP this summer. For those of you that are helping fill those little bellies this summer – KUDOS! It’s a great service to offer to local residents in your community, and whether this is your first time participating in summer feedings or you’re a seasoned veteran, I’m glad you’ve chosen to help support this mission.
To help you prepare to launch your district’s SFSP, I’ve put together this list of tips to remember and things to try that may help increase your participation numbers. Check them out below, and let me know if you have other ideas in the comments section at the bottom of the post!

10 Tips for SFSP Success

  1. Utilize farm fresh foods in your SFSP.

    A wonderful thing about the SFSP is that it aligns well with a lot of peak growing seasons, allowing you to serve the freshest crops in your meals. If you live in a climate with an abundance of freshly grown fruits and vegetables, count yourself among the lucky ones and take advantage! Partnering with local growers is a great way to help your local economy thrive, all while providing the very best in nutritious food for the children you serve.

  2. Tailor feeding events to certain age groups.

    It’s no secret that a 1st grader doesn’t have the same interests as a junior in high school, so why would they be interested in the same summer feeding events? Depending on how your SFSP is structured, there may be opportunities to serve different age groups at different times and in different ways.

  3. People like free stuff.

    Stating the obvious, but we all know it to be true. Running contests or giveaways in conjunction with your summer feeding program is sure to help get feet in the door and food in mouths. Everyone who participates in summer feeding should receive a giveaway. It should be something that children will appreciate while remaining cost-effective for your nutrition operation. Hold a contest offering a prize to make people (especially children) really want to come through your lunch line. A contest will have a longer duration than a giveaway and will typically feature an item of high monetary value or extreme scarcity.

  4. Location. Location. Location.

    Where you decide to host your summer feedings is a vital decision that will help pave the way for a successful summer program. I suggest holding your SFSP at Summer School locations, that way you can tap into “automatic” participation from the kiddos who are taking summer classes.

  5. Location. Location… New Location?

    Just because you plan to host your summer feedings at the Summer School site doesn’t mean that you have to continue with that location after the academic summer term has ended. If that site no longer makes sense geographically within the neighborhood you serve, plan to switch to a more convenient site. You bring exposure to a different part of your community and potentially lessen the transportation burden for some students trying to get their free meal.

  6. Invite summer camps to lunch.

    A great way to increase participation in your SFSP is by partnering with local activity and sport camps. Often times, those organizations are responsible for feeding their campers during the lunch hour. As long as they can provide the transportation to and from the feeding site, the camp can offer kids a nutritious, hot meal for lunch – at no cost to the camp or camper. It is a significant point for the camp organization to advertise to parents to increase their registration numbers.

  7. Old school advertising can get the job done.

    Speaking with a former Food Service Director, they found that traditional promotional methods work well. Take-home flyers and curbside vinyl banners advertising your SFSP site are great for spreading awareness and generate solid return-on-investment (ROI).

  8. Make a digital footprint for your SFSP.

    While old school advertising is tried and true, it is absolutely essential that you don’t neglect the growing area of digital communications. With the majority of students and parents on social media, spreading the word of your SFSP through the district’s social channels is essential! Other ways to reach parents and students include:
    —– Advertising on menus and digital screens in school locations
    —– Launching an email campaign targeting parents of school-age children
    —– Placing an advertisement or write-up in the school newsletter about your SFSP
    —– Pop-up notification through your online payment processing system

  9. Adults are hungry too. Extra meals = extra revenue.

    An easy source of often-untapped revenue can come from offering adult meals for sale alongside the free children’s meals. Parents may accompany their smaller children to the summer feeding site, and instead of excluding them, take advantage of the opportunity. Plus, every adult meal served helps to offset the cost of running your SFSP.

  10. Plan ahead. Achieve success.

    Staying current with all the changing regulations in SFSP is crucial to your organization’s success. Be sure to check out this resource, as I have found it very useful in planning for summer feeding. Planning won’t ensure success, but it sure puts you two steps in the right direction.