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Summer Meals: Feeding Hungry Bodies and Hungry Brains

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Today is a very important day for many children in Billings. Today marks the beginning of Billings Public Schools’ Summer Food Service Program, AKA lunch in park 2012. For many low-income children and their families, it will be a day to celebrate because, sadly, hunger does not take a summer vacation.

For many children, the end of the school year is the beginning of a summer filled with fun and relaxation. However, for a significant number of Montana families, summer is an especially difficult time of year. During the summer months, children from low-income families do not have access to school breakfast or lunch and their families may have a hard time putting enough nutritious food on the table. In these situations, Summer Food Service Programs (SFSP) can fill a critical nutrition gap.

In his weekly column kicking off the Second Annual National Summer Food Service Program Week (June 11th to 15th), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explained the importance of USDA’s summer meals for kids. “Proper nutrition is critical for a child’s ability to learn, grow, and be ready to achieve their dreams – and hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again and can make children more prone to illness and other health issues year-round.”

Summer Food Service programs operate throughout the state. On Montana Food Bank Network’s website (, you can search for programs by city and county. The seven Billings sites where all children under 18 eat for free are:

  • North Park at N. 19th St. and Sixth Ave. N. from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Boys and Girls Club at 505 Orchard, from 11:45 a.m.1:15 p.m.
  • South Park at South Broadway and Sixth Ave. S., from noon to 1 p.m.
  • Gorham Park on the 2300 block of Hewitt, from noon to 1 p.m.
  • Pioneer Park at Third St. W. and Ave. C., from noon to 1 p.m.
  • Central Park at Central and Eighth St. W., from noon to 1 p.m.
  • Crow Park at Crow and Sioux in the Heights, from noon to 1 p.m.

Thanks to Billings Education Foundation, generous donors, and dozens of volunteers, for six weeks this summer hungry kids in our community can feed their minds as well as their bodies during lunch. Starting June 18th, Reading Rocks provides guest storytellers, individual readers, and free books to children from 12:15 to 1:00 p.m. at the following summer meal sites: Mondays and Wednesdays in North Park, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Central Park, Mondays in Crow-Arrowhead Park, and Thursdays in South Park.

Next week, to kick off Reading Rocks for 2012, members of Billings Action for Healthy Kids (BAFHK), a local coalition advocating for children’s nutrition and fitness, will be guest storytellers. They will read deliciously fun books about eating smart and talk with kids and their families about tasty foods choices that help you grow strong and stay well.

Eating at home or taking a picnic to the park for your kids this summer? Reading about nutrition can help them enjoy good nutrition too. Here are four books recommended by this summer’s BAFHK guest readers. You can check them out at your local library, favorite bookstore, or online booksellers.

  • I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato, by Lauren Child
  • Growing Vegetable Soup, by Lois Ehlert
  • Mama Provi and The Pot of Rice, by Sylvia Rosa-Cassanova
  • Bread and Jam for Francis, Russell Hoban

Dayle HayesDayle Hayes, MS, RD
Author, Speaker, and Nutrition Therapist

Dayle Hayes is a registered dietitian committed to innovative, delicious nutrition solutions for busy families. As a consultant to Billings Clinic, she specializes in positive nutrition tips, eating disorders, and sports nutrition. Dayle graduated from U. Mass-Boston and received a Masters of Science in Community Health Education from U. Mass-Amherst.
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