Free Summer Meals for Minnesota Kids

Child with a packaged lunch and carton of milk. Free Summer Meals for Minnesota Kids

Each summer, parks, recreation centers, community centers, libraries and schools serve free healthy meals to children and teens while school is out of session. You do not need to qualify for the summer lunch programs. It is not income based like the national school lunch and school breakfast programs. Registration is not required; your kids just show up and eat. We have never been asked for ID. Many libraries are also free summer meal sites. So if the day isn’t right for a park visit, maybe a library visit is a better fit.

A Few Things to Note

  1. Some sites (all MPRB sites in 2023) require kids to stay on site while they eat to make sure the program is not abused.
  2. We have learned in 2023, some Minneapolis Parks are turning away kids who are not registered for their paid Rec Plus program (Webber Community Center & Waite Park). This seems unethical, but maybe they have separate funding? I don’t know. We would recommend checking the MPRB Free Meal Program map and then calling ahead.
  3. The food trucks are not in service in 2023, if your go-to park has traditionally served meals from a food truck, you may want to call ahead, even if it is listed.
  4. A typical free summer meal meets federal nutrition standards and will include vegetables like baby carrots and whole grains in the form of bread or crackers and a protein.
  5. The program does not serve lunch on Juneteenth or July 4th or on weekends. Meals are offered Monday through Friday.
Van Cleve Recreation Center in Minneapolis Minnesota
Many Recreation Centers have picnic tables

Eight Reasons to Take Advantage of Free Summer Meals

Why does Minnesota and the federal government do this with our tax dollars? I don’t know all the reasons, but we can assume some obvious reasons:

  1. Because these children will one day run this country and nutrition is important for long-term brain development.
  2. Because nutrition has an impact on the social and emotional well-being of a child.
  3. Because good nutrition makes children more capable of learning here and now.
  4. Because getting children to the park every day also helps with all these areas of health.
  5. Because kids don’t like being singled out as “poor kids”; but when all the kids do it, the children who need this service most don’t feel weird about it.
  6. Because kids get a chance to play with other kids and you can get a chance to hang out with real live grown ups. Pick a park where lots of other parents bring their kids. Some parks even offer fun activities or summer programs during school vacation.
  7. Because parents have enough to do each day and, without this opportunity, may not find the time to get kids to the park.
  8. Because You need a break, too! Take a blanket, a book, and your own sandwich and eat in the sun.

So, why not take advantage of this program that your own tax dollars pay for and get your kids out to the park for a bit every day while also making sure they get a reasonably healthy meal.

Find Free Summer Meal Sites in Local Neighborhoods

Which sites participate and when changes from year to year, so the easiest way to find nearby meal sites is to go to this interactive map on the USDA Food & Nutrition Service site and type in your address. Note: meals are not served on holidays at most locations. As we learn about specific sites, we’ll add them to this short list:

With or Without Free Summer Meals – Get out to the Parks!

There are good reasons not to take advantage of the free meals. Maybe you have allergy issues or a sensitive or picky eater. Maybe the extreme amount of packaging doesn’t fit your zero-waste goals. Maybe you don’t want to use tax money that could go elsewhere. Whatever your reason, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the nearby summer meal locations and time your park visits to coincide. Packing your own nutritious meal and getting out to play every day will provide the same benefits to your children.

Jackson Square Park

Additional Resources

The State of Minnesota offers a list of additional resources for families needing help with basic food and groceries, including program information for emergency food support, food shelves, SNAP, WIC and help for older adults.

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