Each summer, parks, recreation centers, community centers, libraries and schools serve free summer meals to children and teens 18 while school is out of session. You do not need to qualify for this service. It is not income based. You do not need to sign up; your kids just show up and eat. Heads up. Most of these locations do not serve lunch on July 4th and I am not aware of any weekend options.
In 2019, more libraries got involved or got better at getting the word out better. So if the day isn’t right for a park visit, maybe a library visit is a better fit.
Why does the government do this with our tax dollars? I don’t know all the reasons, but we can assume some obvious ones:
Eight Reasons to Take Advantage of Free Summer Meals
- Because these children will one day run this country and nutrition is important for long-term brain development.
- Because nutrition has an impact on the social and emotional well-being of a child.
- Because good nutrition makes children more capable of learning here and now.
- Because getting children to the park every day also helps with all these areas of health.
- Because kids don’t like being singled out as “poor kids”; but when all the kids do it, the children who need it most don’t feel weird about it.
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. In 2020, we are encouraged to pick less populated parks to help keep our distance.
- Because parents have enough to do each day and, without this opportunity, may not find the time to get kids to the park.
- 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.
Where to Find Free Summer Meals
Which sites participate and when changes from year to year, so the easiest way to find a park near you is to go to this USDA site and type in your address. Note: meals are not served on holidays at most locations.
- Minneapolis Park locations are found here.
- I know that Minneapolis Central Library also offers summer meals for kids, but have been unable to find a link. If visiting the “big library” is in your summer plans, you may want to call ahead for times.
- Saint Paul Parks list their locations here.
- South Washington County School District would like families to be aware that it offers free family fun and meals all summer long! Free breakfast, lunch, snacks and family-friendly activities are available every day during the week. Find all the meal resources in the South Washington County here. (This page also lists places to find community meals open to entire families and other resources).
- Dakota County Library’s Summer Meals program runs early-June through late August from noon. 2019 meals were served from noon to 1:00 p.m. at Wentworth and Burnhaven libraries. All of their meals are kosher and nut and pork free. The also offer vegetarian and lactose-free options upon request.
- Zanewood Park in Brooklyn Park. Free evening meals are provided for youth Monday-Friday from 4–5 pm. Kids can choose between balanced options from the food pyramid to eat on-site.
With or Without Free Summer Meals – Get out to the Parks!
There are good reasons not to 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.
Our Family Directory has over 400 parks (and growing) to check out! You can further sort by area of the Twin Cities and by city.