Sara D. Roosevelt Park, New York
This food truck is a part of the annual free summer meals program provided to children and youth by the New York City Department of Education. Last year, from the first day of summer vacation through to the start of classes in September, 8.1 million free meals were served at schools, libraries, parks, public housing and community organizations all over New York City.
Last week, before taking off for New York City I wrote about a few programs aimed at increasing access to healthy and affordable food in Canada. Those ideas were still floating around in my mind and regrets over what I might have missed in my post were still fresh when I came across this program in NYC. So, I tried to find out more.
Food consumption and food environments are linked to a variety of health outcomes including obesity and chronic disease. But beyond that, children and youth particularly, require healthy nutrition for proper development.
Access to food and healthy dietary habits can also impact academic achievement. Skipping breakfast for instance is associated with decreased alertness, memory, attention, problem solving and other cognitive processes. Consuming less healthy foods have been associated with lower levels of education completed in adulthood. This is something that many school districts and departments of education have understood. They have responded by creating school food programs. These programs are shown to be associated with increased academic grades, improved cognitive performance and lower rates of absenteeism.
And what about during the summer? Baltimore, Waco and Palm Beach County already have summer meals programs. In fact, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service will fund over 200 million free meals this summer at sites across the United States.
Back in New York, between June 27th and September 4th, meals will be available at 1,100 locations. The effort represents a big push for improved educational opportunities for many young New Yorkers. It also represents a more complete understanding of the importance of food to the socioeconomic landscape of cities. In recent years the program has been undersubscribed, with fewer families participating than during the school year. Because of this the program is being designed to be as convenient as possible. This year promotion will be ramped up. Planned events include promotion with NBA draftees and "station domination" advertising, a method of occupying all ad space within a transit station.
We all know what a powerful social lever education can be. Nutritious food ensures that kids have a better opportunity to get the most out of school.
If you want to know more about the connection between nutrition, dietary habits and academic outcomes, these links provide a good background.
To find out more about summer meals programs including the one in New York, try these links.