For many children, summer break means lazy mornings and afternoon swims. But for others, summer brings grumbling bellies and the pain of hunger. It’s estimated that 15 percent of Oregon families are food insecure. In the U.S., it’s estimated that 16 million children do not have enough to eat each day, skip meals, eat watered-down food or go hungry. Summertime brings an added challenge for parents because many school-aged children no longer have access to free- or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, and money for food runs even lower each month.
Local school districts frequently sponsor a free summer lunch program, which is often held in local parks and playgrounds. Even smaller rural districts are following suit. This year, there are 600 sites throughout the state offering meals. A list of Portland programs can be found here, and programs in other parts of Oregon here.
The slower pace of summer may allow busy families to spend time growing, preparing or harvesting foods to help stretch their dollar. Beginning steps in helping the dollar go further is making a weekly meal plan, looking at grocery store ads and selecting foods that are in season. Preparing breakfast casseroles, hot cereal, salads, soups and pasta or rice dishes from scratch helps save money, and they’re often more nutritious than pre-made meals or convenience foods. Involving school-aged children in menu planning and meal preparation helps them feel invested in the effort and more likely to try new foods.
Both WIC and SNAP allow families to use benefits at local farmers markets. Purchasing locally grown food that is in season offers up more nutrients and can be a festive event. The Sustainable Table is an easy-to-use website that lists in-season foods each month for each state and offers up nutrition information, cooking tips, links to recipes as well as the location of farmers markets.
Within the city of Portland, there are a number of community garden sites with plots available on a first come, first serve basis from March to June. You can learn more about the Community Gardens program here.
Some of my fondest memories as a kid were helping in our family garden and picking fresh green beans and corn an hour before dinner. Got a memory or suggestion you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!
April Mitsch, M.S., R.D.N., IBCLC
Feeding Clinic Dietitian
The Child Development and Rehabilitation Center (CDRC)
Oregon Health & Science University