Now that school’s out for the summer, the family time, camps, and adventures begin! And while all of the summer experiences are exciting, when the kids are in school, they eat their lunch and sometimes breakfast there. Summer marks the transformation of mom and dad into chef mom and dad as they have to whip up breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for their hungry little ones. But what if there was a way for kids to still get their breakfast and lunch from school, saving mom and dad from their chef duties? And what about the kids who receive free lunches at school? Summer time becomes a financial burden for their parents. Well, NYC offers an extensive summer breakfast and lunch program for kids through the NYC Department of Education. All children, ages 18 and under, can enjoy free breakfast and lunch throughout the summer from local schools, parks, pools, libraries, and even food trucks. Not only do mom and dad not have to cook or worry about food shopping for these meals, but kids love this program because of all the options. Choose from popcorn chicken, mozzarella sticks, tacos, and so much more!
Locations & Dates
Well, this sounds great and all, but how exactly does the program work? From June 27 to August 7, visit your local school, park, pool, or library for free meals. Note that some locations only serve lunch, so be sure to check before you head out. NYC Department of Education makes it quite easy and accessible to find a location that serves free meals using their search tool, through which you can enter a zip code and address or filter by borough, location type, and more. There are over 1,000 locations, so we won’t list them all here — it’s much more efficient if you just find the one that’s closest to you using their search tool! And you can visit any of the locations, so if you find yourself in the Bronx, perhaps visiting the Bronx Zoo, but you live in Manhattan, head to the nearest school or park in the Bronx that offers free lunch. The program stretches through all five boroughs, so there is sure to be a location for free breakfast and lunch near you. Also, note that meals will not be served on July 4 and August 12.
While the schools, parks, pool, and libraries offer meals five days a week, Monday through Friday, there are three mobile food trucks that offer meals seven days a week. The food trucks are located at Sara D. Roosevelt Playground in the Lower East Side, Manhattan, Holcombe Rucker Park in Washington Heights, Manhattan, and Rufus King Playground in Jamaica, Queens.
These mobile food trucks offer even more opportunities to receive your free summer lunch! Photo by John Minchillo.
NYC Department of Education not only provides free summer meals to relieve the financial burden and the burden of having to cook meals every day in the summer, but they also encourage healthy and balanced eating. All menus are pork free with no artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners used in any SchoolFood product. The menus differ depending on the type of location, so schools offer different menu items than the parks, pools, and libraries. The main difference between schools and the other locations is that schools offer hot lunch and breakfast, while parks, pools, and libraries serve cold lunch and breakfast. All menus include daily offerings in addition to the lunch or breakfast meal of the day, so there are plenty of options to choose from. Every meal includes a healthy component, such as salad, ranch and carrots, broccoli, and fresh fruit. When you see the various menus, you’ll notice the efforts to create healthier options, such as baked mozzarella sticks instead of fried and sweet potato wedge fries instead of french fries.
Kids love the flavorful and diverse summer lunch & breakfast menus! Photo by Homefront Progressives.
Tips & Tricks
There are a few things to be mindful of before heading over to eat your delicious, free summer breakfast or lunch. First, be sure to check your location online or by texting “NYCMEALS” to 877-877 for specifics. Not all locations offer both breakfast and lunch, and some locations open at different days during the week. Although most of the locations run Monday through Friday, there are a few that offer Saturday and Sunday meals or that don’t open on Mondays. Also, make sure that you check the time that breakfast and lunch are available, which differ per location. If you use the search tool, the time and days of the week are listed right next to the address and the menu of the location. The times greatly range, as some locations only offer lunch between 12 and 1 pm, while others are open 11:30 to 3 pm.
Additionally, the menus are fairly accurate, but they are subject to change. So if your kids love popcorn chicken and plan to get their free lunch on popcorn chicken day, there is a slim chance that they may be disappointed. What’s great about the menus is that there’s enough variety to keep your kids interested, but also enough constancy and rotation to keep them happy and interested. So if they happen to miss popcorn chicken day, there is likely another opportunity to enjoy popcorn chicken coming up soon.
A helpful tip: make going out to get your meals a summer adventure! Since many local parks and pools offer these free meals, take the opportunity to play on the playground and swim at the pool. If you really want to turn this program into an adventure, bring your little ones around to a different playground, pool, or library each time for a new experience. Take a break from your family fun to grab your free lunch (parents can pack a lunch for themselves if you’re out and about), and then head back to climbing on the jungle gym, swimming, or searching the library shelves for great reads.
Spend a few hours on the playground before or after you enjoy your free meal! Photo by NYC Parks.
Remember — no documentation, registration, or ID is required to receive these free summer meals. They’re a win-win for parents and children and a wonderful NYC resource. So browse the menus, find nearby locations, and head on over to enjoy free meals all summer!