Each summer, parks, recreation centers, community centers, libraries and schools serve free summer meals to children and teens while school is out of session. You do not need to qualify for this service. 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, but some sites require kids to stay on site while they eat to make sure the program is not abused.
Many libraries are also free summer meal programs. So if the day isn’t right for a park visit, maybe a library visit is a better fit.
A typical meal will include vegetables like baby carrots and whole grains in the form of bread or crackers.
Heads up. Most of these locations do not serve lunch on July 4th and I am not aware of any weekend options. Meals are offered Monday through Friday at most sites.
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:
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 this service 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.
- 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.
Find Free Summer Meal Sites in Local Neighborhoods
Which sites participate and when changes from year to year, so the easiest way to find the nearest free summer meals site you 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:
- Dakota County Library will offer summer meals at Wentworth Library & Burnhaven Library. Learn More Here.
- Saint Paul Library meals sites include Rondo Library, Rice Street Library and Dayton’s Bluff Library. Find days and times here.
- Saint Paul Parks shares their free meal site list here.
- Minneapolis Park summer food service programs are found here.
- Robbinsdale Area Schools has three meals sites in 2022 – Sanborn Park, Manor Park & Becker Park.
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.
Additional Food 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.
- Find A New Park. Our Family Directory has nearly 600 parks (and growing) to check out! You can further sort by area of the Twin Cities and by city.
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