In San Diego County, more than 1 in 5 children are estimated to live in households that cannot provide enough food at all times for an active, healthy life. In addition to affecting their physical and cognitive development, hunger affects children’s ability to concentrate and learn. Reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success, so it is critical to the future of our region that we address child hunger today.  

Eligible children may receive free or reduced price school meals to help them succeed in school. To find out if your family qualifies for help and to apply, visit or your school district's website.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition believes that school meal programs are one of the most effective tools available to eliminate child hunger.  Many low-income children depend on school meals as their primary food source Monday through Friday.  The National School Meals Program provides federal funds to schools to offer robust programs for breakfast, lunch, and after-school snack meals.  However, school districts frequently do not have the time or expertise to pursue all of the funds available and to enroll all eligible students in free and reduced price meals programs.   

In its 2012 assessment of school district meal programs in San Diego County, the San Diego Hunger Coalition discovered that San Diego ranked 40th out of 58 California counties in the number of eligible children receiving free and reduced price meals.  San Diego Hunger Coalition also found that if all students eligible for the Free and Reduced Priced Meal Program were actually participating, an additional $32,350,000 would be reimbursed to San Diego County schools each year for their school meal budgets.  In the interviews that were part of this research, the Hunger Coalition received feedback from school nutrition (food service) directors that they would like technical assistance in implementing program options that increase access to meals for students and improve their overall budgets.     

The Hunger Coalition works with schools and child development programs to make good nutrition convenient and affordable in kids’ everyday environments. We focus on four main areas:  

  • School Breakfast Program.  We work with schools and districts to make nutritious breakfast part of the school day, ensuring that children begin the day ready to learn.  
  • Universal Free Meals.  Schools with more than 80% low-income students qualify to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students and receive full federal reimbursement.  We help districts analyze their data, evaluate program options, and provide guidance on conducting program outreach and enrollment. 
  • After-School Meals Program.  We connect schools and youth organizations (e.g., Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs) with resources to provide meals to children when school is not in session, including snacks and supper.   
  • Summer Meals Program. When school lets out for summer, only a fraction of the children who receive free or reduced price meals during the school year participate in summer meals programs. We help schools and youth organizations secure funding and boost participation.    

To date, our efforts have benefitted students in the following schools and districts: Cajon Valley (8 schools), Lemon Grove (7 schools), San Diego Unified (88 schools), South Bay (5 schools), Westmoreland Union (1 school), and Sweetwater Union (3 schools). In addition, the Hunger Coalition’s one-time investment of time and resources to develop each new nutrition program benefits thousands of children over the life of the program and results in higher levels of funding for school and organizational food budgets.

Breakfast at School

Eating breakfast can bolster academic achievement, reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and improve classroom behavior. Unfortunately, many students come to class without eating breakfast, either at home or at their school. 

Many San Diego County schools offer the free and reduced-price breakfast program but it remains underutilized. To help ensure all students start their day well nourished, some schools are implementing Breakfast in the Classroom. Students eat breakfast at their desks in their classrooms during the first 10-15 minutes of class while teachers conduct administrative activities or begin the day’s lessons. To learn more about Breakfast in the Classroom, visit the San Diego Unified School District Food Services Department or BreakfastFirst.

The Food Research and Action Center just released (January 2011) School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities, a report that examines the performance of school breakfast programs in 26 large urban school districts, including San Diego Unified School District, during the 2009-2010 school year. San Diego was one of several cities able to significantly increase daily low-income student breakfast participation (by 3,166 students, a 8.5% increase).

San Diego Hunger Coalition partnered with San Diego Unified School District to promote their Nutrition Break. This program gives students a second chance to eat breakfast helping to positively affect their behavior, cognitive, and school performance.

Summer Meals Program

Schools out for summer. Hunger is not. What happens to the more than 125,000 lower-income children in San Diego County who depend upon the free or reduced-price lunches they eat during the school year? They can participate in a Summer Meals Program.

What is the Summer Meals Program?

The Summer Meals Program is officially called the Summer Food Service Program. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to ensure children under the age of 18 do not go hungry during the summer months, when school meals are not available.

The program is typically found at schools, park and recreation sites, lower-income housing developments, or community organizations. 

To find a location near you, check with your local school district, your local park and recreation center, or click here for the State agency.

The Need

Unfortunately, approximately 72% of children at risk of summer hunger in San Diego County cannot take advantage of this program, for a variety of reasons, like a lack of nearby sites (which is particularly an issue in rural areas). This puts these children at risk of hunger, which can lead to illness and other health issues. When school resumes in the fall, they are more at risk of falling into a cycle of poor performance due to lack of (nutritious) food.

Why the Summer Meals Program is important

Neither learning nor the need for good nutrition ends with the school year. For children who enjoy this program, the food they receive helps keep them healthy, ready to learn, and can contribute to better behavior.


The program is open to all children under the age of 18. There are no income qualifications, no enrollment, and no paperwork required to participate.

Open Summer Meal sites provide free meals to any child who comes to the site. These sites operate in low-income areas where 50% or more of the children residing in the area are eligible for free or reduced price school meals.


A site is a location where the Summer Meals Program is served. Sites can be a school, church, library, park and recreation center or a local community organization, i.e. YMCA.

Click here for a listing of summer meals sites. San Diego Hunger Coalition recommends checking with your local site to confirm the program is still being offered at that location.

If you are interested in learning how to become a site or sponsor contact Robin McNulty at

Summer Meals Task Force

Facilitated by the San Diego Hunger Coalition, the Summer Meals Task Force (SMTF) is the leading resource for starting new summer meal sites and improving existing sites, with the goal of increasing participation in summer meals countywide.

It is the entity for San Diego County summer meal sponsors, sites, and community partners to come together to share information and collectively identify and resolve problems around summer meals programming and other barriers to participation. The Summer Meals Task Force is an all-hands-on-deck effort to ensure that kids have access to summer meals when school is out. 

Summer Meals Task Force members meet monthly from January to October to review best practices, discuss specific issues, generate ideas to improve awareness about summer meals, leverage resources to enhance summer meal programming, and build capacity among local community based organizations. 

Summer Meals Task Force Goals:

  1. Increase participation at summer meal sites
  2. Increase number of summer meal sites
  3. Increase enrichment programming at existing sites

The Summer Meals Task Force, formerly known as the Summer Lunch Task Force, was a subcommittee of the County of San Diego’s County Nutrition Action Partnership (CNAP). In 2015, San Diego Hunger Coalition assumed the role of facilitator, and in 2016 the Summer Meals Task Force found a new and permanent home at the Hunger Coalition. 

Participating organizations include:

  • 2-1-1 San Diego
  • City of San Diego Park and Recreation
  • Community Health Improvement Partners
  • County of San Diego AIS
  • County of San Diego CX3
  • County of San Diego Library
  • County of San Diego Library – Casa de Oro Branch
  • County of San Diego Library – Logan Heights Branch
  • County of San Diego, Health and Human Services 
  • Dairy Council of California
  • Escondido Education COMPACT
  • Escondido Union School District
  • Feeding America San Diego
  • Heaven’s Windows
  • Home Start
  • Interfaith Services
  • Leah’s Pantry
  • Project New Village
  • San Diego Food Bank
  • San Diego Unified School District
  • San Ysidro School District
  • SAY San Diego
  • South Bay Community Services
  • South Bay Union School District
  • UCSD Division of Community Pediatrics
  • University of California Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program

The Summer Meals Task Force is are always open to new members. If you have questions or would like to attend a meeting, please contact Robin McNulty, Director of School Meals Program.

North County Youth Meals
Task Force 

In 2017, the Hunger Coalition began convening the North County Youth Meals Task Force as part of its work with the City of Oceanside to increase participation at existing afterschool and summer meal sites and launch new sites. This group will work to strengthen relationships and business processes with the City, the school district, school nutrition offices, day care centers and preschools, local government health and human services agencies, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, and low-income housing complexes to increase the number of summer meal sites and participation and programming at existing sites.

The first meeting of the North County Youth Meals Task Force will be held at the end of April. All North County summer meal sites and sponsors are invited to attend. For more information please contact Robin McNulty, Director of School Meals Program.

Latest School Meals Program Updates