Model Best Practices to End Childhood Hunger

Elected officials can increase the visibility of childhood hunger and leverage their influence to make lasting changes that increase program participation.  Your enthusiasm can transform an issue into a movement. Your influence can activate resources toward programs proven to end childhood hunger. Your authority can bring about lasting changes to increase access to the child nutrition programs. These resources will help you implement best practices to expand the reach of the federal nutrition programs to feed kids in your community.

Learn What Elected Officials Can Do To Improve Program Access


Governors are in a strong position to create real change to end childhood hunger by making it a priority of their administration. They can use their bully pulpit to mobilize support; dedicate resources to create administrative efficiencies; and improve access to programs proven to end childhood hunger. They can also seek legislate modifications to the framework of child nutrition programs. Use this checklist to explore the host of options that a governor can take to end childhood hunger.

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State Legislator

State legislators can make lasting changes to address childhood hunger in their state. They can use their influence to raise awareness about the issue; pass legislation that supports program expansion and efficiency; encourage legislative studies related to addressing childhood hunger; and work with state agencies to ensure that effective policies are in place. Use this checklist to explore the range of options that legislators can take to address child hunger.


Mayors are in a unique position to address childhood hunger in their communities. They can use their public position to activate resources and support for local efforts to expand access to child nutrition programs. They can use their influence to elevate regulatory and administrative problems that make it hard to run programs in their communities. Use this checklist to learn about the actions that mayors can take to end childhood hunger.

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First Spouse

First spouses often champion issues that affect children and families and can serve as surrogates for their spouses on certain policy issues and priorities of the administration. They can play a significant role in raising the visibility of childhood hunger by making it a part of their public agenda and rallying public and private stakeholders to address the problem. Use this resource to learn how first spouses across the country are working to ensure that children have access to the healthy meals they need.

Increase Access To School Breakfast

The School Breakfast Program ensures that kids get the nutrition they need to learn and succeed in school.  A student that eats school breakfast is more likely to do better on standardized tests, attend class more frequently and have less behavioral issues, which leads to greater job-readiness and self-sufficiency after high school. The most effective way for students to get a healthy breakfast is to make it part of the school day. Models such as Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab and Go results in the greatest gains in school breakfast participation. Use the resources below to make breakfast a part of the school day in schools in your community.

Tactic 1: Pass legislation requiring breakfast be served after the bell at no cost in high-need schools

The most effective legislation for increasing participation in the school breakfast program mandates that breakfast be served after the bell in high-need schools and requires that it be offered for free to all students. Other promising legislative options are to eliminate the reduced-price category or allocate funding for grants or a per meal reimbursement for schools implementing breakfast after the bell. An increasing number of states are pursuing school breakfast legislation. 
Use the Sample School Breakfast Legislation as a starting point to craft legislation for your state. Read about other policies passed in states that can have a big impact on school breakfast participation in the Breakfast After the Bell Policy Solutions brochure and visit the Center for Best Practices School Breakfast Policy Page.

Tactic 2: Launch a school breakfast challenge

A school breakfast challenge is a statewide contest to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program. Schools that make the greatest gains in participation within a set timeframe are recognized for their efforts and rewarded with prizes. School breakfast challenges incentivize schools to improve access to school breakfast, generate media about the importance of the program, and surface champions who can promote school breakfast expansion to peers in other schools across the state. Elected official can help to launch a school breakfast challenge by promoting the event to schools and can help to celebrate successful schools at the end of a challenge.

Tactic 3: Clarify that school breakfast can count towards instructional time

Lost instructional time is one of the most common misconceptions about serving breakfast after the bell. Teachers report that Breakfast in the Classroom does not take away from instructional time since breakfast usually takes place during morning announcements and attendance. In fact, Breakfast in the Classroom can lead to gains in instructional time with fewer nurse visits, less tardiness and absenteeism and fewer disciplinary problems. Several state superintendents of education have issued memos which clarify that breakfast in the classroom can count as instructional time. Present these examples and sample memo to your state agency as models to help schools eliminate one more barrier to increasing access to school breakfast.

Help Kids Thrive In The Summertime With A Healthy Meal

For students that rely on the healthy meals served during the school day, having enough food to continue to thrive when school is out can be hard.  The summer meals programs - Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) - help children get the food they need during the summer months when school is not in session.  Paired with enrichment programs, summer meals programs ensure that children are well-fed and in a safe environment engaged in academic and recreational activities. These programs however are severely underutilized; only about 15 percent of low-income kids receive meals during the summer. The strategies and tools in this section will help you to elevate the issue of summer hunger in your community.

Tactic 1: Raise awareness about the summer meals programs

No Kid Hungry research shows that only 40 percent of low-income families know about a summer meals programs in their community. Elected officials can help promote the programs to families in their community by attending kick-off events at the start of summer, visiting sites throughout the summer and recognizing success at the end of the summer. A visit to a local summer meals site at any time during the summer helps to reinforce the importance of these programs and to draw attention to where families can find sites in their neighborhoods. Work with local community partners and use the Summer Meals Site Visit Toolkit to help arrange a visit to a summer site.

Elected officials can also help to spread the word about national summer meals texting and hotline numbers through social media, robo calls to parents, on their websites and on state government websites, and by canvassing local neighborhoods. Explore the Sodexo Foundation Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit for more ideas on how you can promote the summer meals programs to families in your community.

Tactic 2: Work with your community to establish summer sites

The success of the summer meals programs is dependent on a strong network of accessible sites. Elected officials can help to ensure that there are no underserved areas in their cities, districts and states by working with faith and community leaders, schools and local officials to identify new sites and resources to fill gaps in service.  Mayors’ offices can provide additional support to fill gaps by sponsoring sites in underserved areas.  Reach out to your state agencies to get a list of summer meals program sponsors and areas underserved by the summer meals programs.

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Tactic 3: Support a collaborative plan for summer meals expansion

Convening key public and private stakeholders to create a comprehensive plan for tackling summer hunger can help to increase participation in the summer meals program.  These partners can help you identify opportunities to expand service, collectively address challenges and align resources to maximize participation in summer meals programs.  Elected officials are in a prime position to take the lead in convening stakeholders or working with their state agencies to do so.  Use the No Kid Hungry Summer Collaborative Planning Toolkit to help you convene stakeholders in support of a plan for summer meals in your community.

Tactic 4: Sponsor legislation to encourage expansion of the summer meals programs

Elected officials can help expand the summer meals programs in their communities by sponsoring legislation to allocate funding for site expansion and implementation of programming, require participation in high-need areas, or make changes to enhance administrative efficiencies. A handful of states have passed legislation requiring school districts in high-need areas to participate in the summer meals programs or allocated state funding to support programs activities. For more examples of state legislative actions, visit the Center for Best Practices Summer Meals Program Policy page.

Elected officials can also support requests to the USDA to waive cumbersome regulatory requirements, such as congregate feeding requirements on excessive heat days, the frequency of site monitoring, or use of funds across child nutrition programs.

Ensure Kids Get A Meal At The End Of The School Day

The At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program, part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), helps kids get the nutritious meals they need in a safe, supervised location after the school day ends. Afterschool enrichment programs that offer a meal with programming have seen an increase in attendance and improvements in student behavior.  The afterschool meals program can benefit schools and organizations by bringing in additional funding and increase attendance in enrichment programs.  The resources in this section will help you to promote the benefits of afterschool meals in your community.

Tactic 1: Raise awareness about the afterschool meals program

According to No Kid Hungry research, only a third of parents know of an afterschool program that provides food for their children, but three-quarters of parents are interested in programs that do so.  As one of the newest child nutrition programs, awareness and participation in the program remain low.  Elected officials can raise awareness among families by visiting afterschool meals programs to reinforce the importance of this program, posting information on their websites or through social media, and encourage schools in their community to inform students about existing programs.  Use the Afterschool Meals Outreach Toolkit to spread the word about the Afterschool Meals Program in your community.  

Tactic 2: Encourage schools to serve afterschool meals

Schools are an ideal location for the Afterschool Meals Program because kids are already on site and schools are trusted by parents, may already offer afterschool activities, and have the staff, equipment, and know-how to prepare meals.  Elected officials can help to increase access to the afterschool meals program by working with state agencies and schools to ensure there are enough accessible afterschool meals sites in their communities.  Encourage your state agencies to reach out to schools in your community that are eligible to participate in CACFP, particularly schools that receive Title I funding or that receive grant funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program.

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Tactic 3: Sponsor legislation to encourage expansion of the afterschool meals programs

Elected officials can help to expand access to the afterschool meals programs by sponsoring legislation to allocate funding to support site expansion or to require schools to participate in the program in high-need areas.  Legislative or district-level policies can improve program efficiency and reach by encouraging data sharing between state agencies and non-profit partners, streamlining administrative processes for School Food Authorities or out-of-school time meal sponsors, and providing grants for afterschool programs that serve meals.  For more examples of state legislative actions, visit the Center for Best Practices Afterschool Meals Program Policy page.

Promote Food Skills Education To Families

Teaching low-income families to plan, shop for and cook healthy meals, otherwise known as food skills education, is a powerful component of the No Kid Hungry campaign.  Effective food skills education can have a significant impact on families’ food budgets, health and well-being. Families that participate in effective food skills education programs, such as Cooking Matters, are able to stretch their food resources further by eating more meals at home, getting more food per dollar spent, and making healthier choices. Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters program offers a variety of high-quality and turn-key products developed and refined by culinary and nutrition experts that can be used in your community:

  • Cooking Matters courses are intensive, hands-on six-week courses on meal preparation, grocery shopping, food budgeting and nutrition for adults, kids and families. Each participant takes home a bag of groceries at the end of each class. 
  • Cooking Matters at the Store are interactive grocery store tours that provide families with hands-on education on how to compare foods for cost and nutrition as they shop for groceries.
  • Educational toolkits, handouts and recipes that can be used to create fun and interactive food skills education activities.

Tactic 1: Raise awareness about food skills education programs in your community

Elected officials can help raise awareness about the importance and effectiveness of food skills education and drive demand for programs already happening in your community by attending a food skills education course, tour or event in your community.  Work with food skills education partners in your state and use the Cooking Matters Influencer Visit Toolkit or the Engaging Elected Officials Toolkit to organize visits to programs in your community.

Tactic 2: Advocate for more food skills education

Limited state legislation exists for food skills education, however, there are other opportunities for elected officials to advocate for food skills education for families.  Elected officials can help to link SNAP outreach efforts with food skills education programming by working with the State agency to ensure community partners that provide food skills education are included in your State’s SNAP Outreach Plan.  At the federal level, elected officials can support national efforts to ensure that the federal nutrition programs continues to be paired with adequate food skills education in both the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Act.  To find out more about national legislative initiatives and actions, visit SNAP Works and NKH Policy and Advocacy.