More Than Just Free Meals
Nurse Scholars teach kids about nutrition and wellness at free summer meal program sites.

United Way’s Summer Meals 2018 Program provided free and nutritious meals for children who may otherwise not have access during the summer months when they are out of school. This year, we have continued a partnership with Samuel Merritt University and their Nurse Scholars for a second summer. This partnership is also made possible with the support of UC Cooperative Extension and 2-1-1 Sacramento.

Dedicated Nurse Scholars participating in the RN to BSN program at Samuel Merritt University, are placed at summer meal sites throughout the region to educate youth about nutrition, health, and wellness. They are helping youth develop the ability to detect healthy vs. unhealthy foods through interactive activities so that they can be empowered to make healthy choices. A few of the topics the nurse scholars have focused on include dental hygiene, the amount of sugar in sugary drinks, the importance of staying hydrated and identifying the five food groups. It is apparent that their efforts have made an impact on the young minds of these children. They are paving the way for youth to make conscious decisions to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

For the last two years, Teddy, his two brothers and their mother, Jen, have been attending the Sacramento Public Library’s Lunch at the Library Program at the Rancho Cordova Branch, one of 28 summer meal sites that United Way provides meals for. According to Jen, the activities and education the SMU Nurse Scholars are providing have positively influenced her children. They request healthier food options, have made new friends through socializing at the library, and can name many fruits and vegetables. The meals provided through our Summer Meals Program are sourced locally and made from scratch. We also include fresh, seasonal produce, like the peach on Teddy’s plate pictured below.

The Summer Meals Program, along with the education and activities the Nurse Scholars provide, has influenced Teddy and his brothers to seek out healthy options, try new vegetables, build communication and socialization skills, and much more. Teddy’s mother emphasizes that “when given options, kids usually make healthy choices.” She also pointed out that the Summer Meals Program is much more accessible and affordable than going to a fast food restaurant. She mentioned that as a society we are not eating in social settings as often. The summer meals program provides the opportunity to share a meal with others. Another participating family reported that the program offers a space during summer which is safe and air-conditioned. 

One of the SMU Nurse Scholar activities that Teddy and his brother particularly enjoy is the Rainbow Activity. The Rainbow Activity teaches kids to identify different colored fruits and vegetables and determine what parts of your body they can help with. Different colors help with different parts of your body including your heart, eyes, immune system, bones and teeth, and memory. Another mom said that after her children participated in the Rainbow Activity, they started enthusiastically calling out the names of fruits and vegetables while at the grocery store. Eating daily servings of fruits and vegetables with variation in color (in other words, “eating a rainbow”) gives kids the energy they need to grow, learn and play.

We hope that the Summer Meals Program and our efforts in partnership with the Samuel Merritt University Nurse Scholars encourages continued learning among the youth in our region, and helps families build familiarity with a broad range of health topics.


This article was written by Zara Aijaz, an Americorps VISTA Summer Associate who spent ten weeks serving the community at our summer meals sites. If you want to learn more about how you can join this program, please contact Diana Vo at or (916)856-3983.