07/03/2013 05:59 pm ET Updated Sep 02, 2013

Summer Break Means Vacation for Some, Hunger for Others

Students across the U.S. are celebrating as the final dismissal bell rings, marking the official start of summer break. While many are making plans with friends, heading to the beach or enrolling in camp, others are facing a very different and very somber reality: a loss of access to food for the coming summer months.

Currently, millions of children in this country rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs to provide vital meals during the year that are essential to their growth and development. Food Research and Action Center's (FRAC) new report shows that while 19.6 million low-income children rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lunch programs during the school year, only one in seven of these children participates in Summer Nutrition Programs. In fact, while summer meal program participation declined from 2008 to 2012, the need for these programs grew.

Many organizations across the U.S. have giving efforts in place to help those impacted. For example, the Walmart Foundation recently gave $14 million in grants to expand access to meals for children outside of school, part of their $2 billion commitment to fight hunger though 2015, but the reality is this issue is very real and looming for U.S. families.
For parents and children in need, summers are a challenge. Here are a few tips to ensure a healthy and happier summer:

Find a Program Near You:
  • Look for organizations in your local community that offer free programs for children of all ages during the summer. Seek out those organizations that you know and trust, such as the YMCA of the USA (The Y) and the National League of Cities, to find summer meal programs in your neighborhood.
  • Buy Frozen Fruits and Veggies:

  • Eating healthy can be costly, which is a concern for many on a tight budget. Opting for generic brand frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to ensure that your family gets the nutrition they need at a reasonable cost. A benefit about frozen produce options, in addition to the cost, is that the produce is at the peak of freshness before it hits the freezer. You can get more nutritional options for less money during any season.
  • Find Your Local Farmers Market:
  • The USDA recently released a tool to help you find farmers markets closest to you or where you work. By visiting the USDA's Farmers Market Search website you can access information about U.S. farmer's market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, and accepted forms of payment. Some farmers markets accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) as a payment option, so visit the site to see if the location near you provides that option. As farmers markets typically cost less than heading to the grocery store, you will be getting access to healthy, local and fresh food while also saving money.

For a child, hunger can cause anxiety and shame while negatively impacting their ability to grow into a healthy adult. It is of the utmost importance that those affected by food insecurity be aware of programs in their area this summer and stay informed on the best ways to ensure proper nutrition.