RELEASE: New Report Shows Flexible Non-Congregate Summer Meals Fill the Gap for Rural Families

Rural Families Face Increased Financial Hardship During Summer Break

Contact: Laura Rice at

Washington, DC - The No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices has published a report on the important role that the new, flexible non-congregate summer meal service plays in meeting the needs of kids and families in rural communities.

For many families, summer comes with the hardship of higher food costs when children are out of school and school meals are unavailable. Summer meal programs help alleviate these costs, but rural families often face major barriers to accessing such programs, including restrictive serving times, lack of transportation and extreme weather. Historically, summer meals have reached only a fraction of the children who are eligible for the program.

In December 2022, Congress approved a significant improvement in how we reach kids with the food they need in the summer. Families in rural areas now have the option to pick up summer meals for their kids or have those meals delivered through what is referred to as “non-congregate” meal service. This supplement to other summertime meal services has proven to be a critical tool for reaching kids with the nutrition they need.

No Kid Hungry and FM3 Research conducted a national survey of 600 rural families during summer 2023 on the unique difficulties they faced when school was out for the summer. Key findings of the study include:

  • Families in rural areas face increased hunger and hardship in the summer.
    • 73% said it’s harder to make ends meet during the summer than during the school year.
  • Non-congregate summer meals help fill the gap for families in rural areas who face barriers to traditional meal service.
    • 72% of families said they would be likely to participate in non-congregate meals if they were available in their communities.
  • Non-congregate meal service, together with congregate meal service, represents important summer nutrition resources for families living in rural areas.
    • Although non-congregate meals are an important option for families, they also see on-site meals as an important resource when available to them.

“Rural families face many unique challenges when it comes to meeting their nutritional needs during the long summer months,” said Marisa Kirk-Epstein, Senior Director of Research, Data and Policy Analysis at the Center for Best Practices for No Kid Hungry. “The addition of the non-congregate option to summer meal programs is truly a game changer for these families in terms of ensuring that their children get the food they need to stay healthy and thrive the whole year through.”

The bottom line is that all kids deserve a happy, hunger-free summer and ready access to consistent nutrition is key to this. The new rural non-congregate meal option provides convenience and flexibility and lowers barriers to access that increases the likelihood that families will participate in summer meal programs. Now that non-congregate summer meals are a permanent option for rural communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, program sponsors, and advocates must work to expand access and reach of this critical tool for more families everywhere.

You can read the Summer Meals: The Importance of Flexible Meal Service for Rural Families micro report here. The full 2023 Survey of Rural Families and Summer Meal Service brief is available here.


About No Kid Hungry

No child should go hungry in America. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of kids could face hunger this year. No Kid Hungry is working to end childhood hunger by helping launch and improve programs that give all kids the healthy food they need to thrive. This is a problem we know how to solve. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization committed to ending hunger and poverty.