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Healthy eating shouldn’t stop when school’s out

October 10, 2016

healthy eating for childrenWritten by Lisa Larsen for

According to data from California Department of Education and California Food Policy Advocates, 85 percent of Solano County students who relied on free or reduced-cost lunches during the 2013-14 school year missed out on free summer meals.

That means more than 16,000 Solano County kids could be at risk of the summer hunger gap right now.

“Having kids at home over the summer can add as much as $300 to a family’s monthly food budget,” said Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO of the Dairy Council of California. “Missing out on balanced meals normally provided at school can put health and academic achievement in jeopardy.”

Luckily, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, coordinated by the California Department of Education, ensures all children 18 and younger can enjoy free healthy meals with milk while school is out.

In fact, according to data from the California Department of Education, free summer meals were offered all over Solano County last year at local sites like public libraries, community centers, parks, pools – even some churches and apartment complexes.

“Taking advantage of free meals in the community is a win-win for families and kids alike,” said Anderson-Wise. “There’s no paperwork required for children to participate – it’s open for all – and each meal matches national nutrition standards.”

To find a summer meal program location, simply text Food (or Comida for Spanish) to 877-877; or visit Locations are added every week, so text or check back often. Sites across the state can find tips, marketing tools and even ideas for hosting educational activities in the Sacramento Summer Lunch Box online at

In addition to the start of summer vacation, June is also National Dairy Month. Milk plays an important role in both the school and summer meals programs because it packs a lot of nutrients in an affordable package that kids enjoy. No other single food or beverage provides the same package of nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, protein and potassium, for around 25 cents per serving.

In fact, milk is served with every meal provided through the Summer Food Service Program. But the benefits of milk and dairy foods are not limited to children. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend three daily servings of dairy foods for everyone ages 9 and older.

The dairy food group includes products made from milk that retain their calcium content, like yogurt and cheese, so there are a wide variety of choices within this category. In fact, there are hundreds of different cheeses to choose from and more varieties of yogurt than ever before.

Milk, yogurt and cheese are versatile foods that can be combined in nearly endless combinations for healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. Make your morning oatmeal with milk and fresh fruit and nuts, try plain yogurt instead of mayonnaise the next time you make a dip for whole grain crackers or dressing for a salad. Adding shredded cheese to vegetables like broccoli or sliced and broiled tomatoes can help make them disappear.

For more information on dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as recipes you can use to ensure your three servings day, visit

Photo by zirconicusso.