During the month of August the Illinois Farm to School Network provided three short educational activities for children who came by to receive lunches from the Summer Meals Illinois program. The lunch program is sponsored by the USDA and provides free meals all summer for Chicago children. Many other organizations in the Chicago area also participated in providing summer lessons and activities to Chicago Public Schools.
We modified a game on the USDA website available here to help get a little physical activity in while teaching children to identify fruits and vegetables and where they grow. We also had plates and markers for children to use to color their own “myPlate” with their favorite fruit, vegetable, grain, and protein to reinforce good eating habits.
We provided seeds, soil, and small pots for children to plant and take home with them to grow and discussed all the things plants need to thrive. Using McAuliffe’s school garden had the children hunt for and pick ripe green beans and identify other plants in the garden. We were also able to do a little garden maintenance in between harvesting with the children.
The challenging part of this kind of programming is the variability in the number of children attending the lunch stops. The program facilitator had days when over 50 children came, and days when less than 20 were there. It also makes it necessary to have stand alone activities, since it’s nearly impossible to have a sequence of lessons when the same children may not be there from week to week.
Despite the challenges, the children got important additional exposure to the importance of fruits and vegetables, the opportunity to actively grow some of their own foods, and to explore the garden in a fun and engaging way.
Head to summerfeedingillinois.org and the USDA’s summer food website for more resources and information about summer meal programming in your community. If you’re looking for ideas for lessons and activities the USDA’s Team Nutrition resource library or the USDA Farm to School toolkit are great starts.