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A school cafeteria worker handing a plate of food to a student.
Summer lunch program helps families struggling with food insecurity. (Photo by Shutterstock)

Summer program for children and youth to address food insecurity

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Media Contact: Trisha Gedon | Sr. Communications Specialist | 405-744-3625 |

Oklahoma students get more than instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic at school – it’s also where they get a nutritious lunch. With the school year ending in a few weeks, families struggling with food insecurity will need to fill that gap.

More than 208,000 students in Oklahoma are grappling with food insecurity. Confusion earlier in the year about what food programs will be available has left some families feeling anxious about providing nutritious meals this summer, said Jenni Klufa, associate state specialist for youth programs through Oklahoma State University Extension’s Community Nutrition Education Program.

“The Summer Food Service Program has been available for many years with nutritious meals at participating sites across the state, and it will continue during summer 2024,” Klufa said. “This program enables organizations and youth programs in high-need areas to offer up to two free meals daily to children and teens age 18 and under throughout the summer.”

Eligible sites must be situated in school service areas where at least 50% of students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. A list of available sites can be found at

Krista Neal, nutrition director with Stillwater Public Schools, said summer food programs are critical, especially for families facing food insecurity.

“Through the Summer Food Service Program, we’re providing well-balanced meals that include fruits and vegetables,” Neal said. “The meals are hot, include whole grains and have limited sodium. Some of the rural sites may offer grab-and-go options that are available to anyone from 1 to 18 years of age. It’s not based on financial need.”

Klufa said children who are impacted by hunger face multiple challenges.

“We see decreased academic achievement in children who are hungry,” she said. “Nutrient intake directly impacts cognitive function, memory and concentration. Studies show a positive correlation between healthy nutrition and academic success.”

Diet also has a direct impact on behavioral well-being. Eating nutrient-rich foods, including those that contain omega-3 fatty acids, can improve mood and reduce behavioral issues.

A well-balanced diet also has a positive effect on athletic performance by providing optimal nutrition, including adequate hydration, balanced macronutrient intake and micronutrient support.

Klufa said it’s important to help close the hunger gap outside of school.

“The ripple effects of hunger can be both endless and irreversible,” Klufa said. “Hunger costs Oklahoma more than $1.5 billion each year through increased illness and decreased academic achievement.”

The summer food program goes beyond food security by helping children with structure and schedules during the day. Neal said it is also beneficial to children who haven’t yet started school because they become familiar with it in a social setting.

“The Summer Meals program is federally funded, and that means money is being spent in Oklahoma and we’re bringing federal dollars back into the state,” Neal said.

Oklahoma’s state leadership opted out of the federally funded Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer Program that would have provided families with an extra $40 in electronic benefits per child per month to purchase food at grocery stores; however, multiple tribal nations are planning to make the Summer EBT Program possible to native and non-native children. The Muscogee, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw nations are participating to reduce hunger among Oklahoma children. Check with the tribal nations for more information.

“One great thing about the tribal nations participating is that they can reach a lot of children. Participants don’t have to be a member of the tribe; they just need to live in the tribal areas,” Neal said. “The lack of the summer EBT program got a lot of press, but food services are still available to Oklahoma families to help with food insecurity during the summer months.”

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