Summer might still be a few months away, but you can never plan too early for a successful Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Chances are that by now, you know whether or not your district is planning to participate in a local SFSP this summer.

To help you prepare to launch your district’s SFSP, here’s a list of tips to remember and things to try that can help increase participation in the program.

Tips to Guarantee Your SFSP Success

Go digital

More than ever, students are engaging and interacting digitally – on their smartphones, or with tablets and computers. To make sure your message is seen, it’s better to forgo the flyers and instead post to Facebook and/or share a photo on Instagram. Here are some additional tips to help get your message across in the digital space:

  • Use digital menu boards to show upcoming SFSP locations or events

  • Share location, time, and menu info on your Facebook page

  • Place a banner image on your school website letting parents know about your SFSP

  • Utilize pop-up notification through your online payment processing system

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. Summer school locations are a great first choice because you know many children will already be there and looking to eat. Going to your customer, versus asking them to come to you, will skyrocket your participation numbers.

Many school nutrition programs also rely on “meals on wheels” for their summer feeding. Check out how Murfreesboro City Schools utilizes a CHOW Bus, and how Boulder Valley School District relies on its “Munchie Machine” to bring more kiddos to the counter. Utilizing a bus or food truck for summer feeding will certainly require more research and funding, so it may not be in the cards this summer…but it’s a good idea to start thinking about how you would like to handle your SFSP next summer as well.

Partner with camps

Partnering with local summer camps is a great way to increase participation in your SFSP. Often times, those organizations are responsible for feeding their campers during the lunch hour, so they are more than willing to partner with your program. 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 win for the camps as well, and helps them boost their registration numbers. To find a camp near you, check out the American Camp Association’s search database.

Farm to Summer

Offering farm to school foods (or in this case, “Farm to Summer” foods) in your SFSP is about more than just catering to the health-conscious students and parents in your community. Farm to school is about bringing nutritious foods to the table, while also supporting the local agriculture industry. It just so happens that summer feeding aligns perfectly with the peak growing season in most areas of the country, allowing you to offer fresh, organic produce in your meals. Partnering with local growers is a great way to help your local economy thrive, all the while providing the very best in nutritious food for the children you serve. Offering locally sourced fruits and vegetables can be a strong selling point to parents, and will encourage them to eat meals along with their kids.

For tips on where to start with procuring local foods and establishing relationships with your community’s local farmers, check out this resource from the USDA.

Kids love prizes

Contests or giveaways at your summer feeding sites can be a great way to quickly increase your participation levels. Think about offering some kind of “punch card”, where students receive a hole punch or stamp each time they visit the feeding site for a meal. Or, give them a ticket to be entered into a drawing at the end of the week/month/summer. Contests and giveaways can be useful tools in raising awareness for the program by word of mouth, or on social media. Kids like free things – big or small – so prizes don’t need to cost much to draw in attention. Check out 4Imprint for promotional materials, or Oriental Trading for small, inexpensive prizes to give away at your feeding site(s).

Remember your audience

Different age groups have different tastes. Your middle school and high school students may be more adventurous, while your elementary students may be a little more picky with their food – or the other way around. Make sure you have a solid understanding of your audience’s tastes, likes and dislikes when planning on the foods you serve and the locations for your SFSP. Depending on how your SFSP is structured, there may be opportunities to serve different age groups at different times and in different ways. This can be especially helpful for older students who may feel silly eating lunch next to younger students, but still would like to have a summer meal.

What did we miss?

Have any other tips for marketing your SFSP to the local community? Share your tips, ideas, strategies, wins and fails in the comments below. We love hearing from you! Email us at

Looking to learn more? Watch our webinar on how to successfully market your Summer Food Service Program. Learn about social media, creating online events, and getting your message in front of students and parents alike!