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Healthy, Affordable Meals for Our Children This Summer

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program plays an integral role in continuing USDA’s important work on child nutrition – even when school is out for the summer.

Ed. Note: This is a cross-post from the U.S. Department of Agriculture blog.

As final school bells ring and students across our nation start summer break, the last thing on a parent’s mind should be how they’re going to provide nutritious meals for a child.

During the school year, USDA plays an integral role in being sure our children have enough to eat. Through the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, USDA helps families by providing nutritious school meals to 32 million kids each day.

But when school’s out for the summer, low-income families can have trouble providing food for their children.

This is a serious concern. Proper nutrition is critical for a child’s ability to learn, grow, and be ready to achieve their dreams – and hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again and can make children more prone to illness and other health issues year-round.

This is why USDA’s Summer Food Service Program plays an integral role in continuing USDA’s important work on child nutrition – even when school’s out for the summer. The program provides Federal assistance for state agencies and non-profit sponsors to help children in low-income areas get the proper nutrition they need.

Over the past three years, USDA has served record numbers of Americans under this program because we understand the need to help folks make ends meet – and to make sure that our children don’t face unnecessary obstacles to learning.

In 2011, USDA partnered with more than 4,700 sponsors, serving more than 137 million meals to low-income kids over summer break – about 3.7 million more meals than we served in 2010 and 7.5 million more meals than we served in 2008.  And over the past three years, we’ve added more than 6,000 additional feeding sites around the country to be sure folks who need this help can find it. This summer, we expect record participation once again.

The Summer Food Service Program is just one way we’re helping Americans everywhere put healthy, affordable meals on the table.

Over the past three years USDA has helped 1 in 4 Americans through our food assistance programs. We’ve worked hard to make sure that any family that’s eligible has access to these programs, and we’ve ensured the very highest standards in program integrity.

And just this month, USDA is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the MyPlate and MiPlato icons – a new, simple way to help Americans to make healthier choices at mealtimes.

The fact is, no American should go hungry or lack access to healthy foods – least of all our children.  As America comes back from the greatest recession many of us have seen, President Obama and I know how important it is to give working families a leg up.

By investing in common-sense programs that help families across the nation, we’re working to strengthen America – and we’re building a healthier future that’s full of opportunity for our young people.

For an audio version of this message, please click here.

Tom Vilsack is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.