Summer Meals for a Military Family

Written by Chelsea Guigma

As the school year ends and summer break begins, military and civilian parents are under pressure due to rising food costs and having to provide additional meals and snacks for their children and teens. This is even tougher for military families, who often struggle with food insecurity, especially when kids are home more during the summer. Many military kids rely on free and reduced lunch programs. With school out for summer, military families face increased challenges in providing consistent nutritious meals for their children.

As a military spouse and a mom of five kids, adjusting to the increased food demand has been a challenge in our household. The uncertainty of not knowing if our children are eating enough nourishing meals or if my husband and I are not purchasing and cooking enough food is always a worry for us. However, we’ve managed to provide our kids with good, home-cooked meals rather than settling for quick dinners and fast food. I’d love to share some of the easy and affordable meal ideas that have become favorites in our household. These recipes not only save money but also ensure that we’re eating nutritious meals together as a family.


What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity is a problem that military families experience when they are unable to regularly purchase or get enough good, healthy food to eat. Military families often can’t afford enough nutritious food and have to settle for low-quality meals.


Reasons for Military Food Insecurity

One major reason military families struggle with food insecurity is because they rely on just one income, often from underemployed service members. Additionally, unstable job situations for spouses due to unemployment add to the problem. High off-base housing costs, also make it hard to afford enough food. A lack of budgeting skills and experience in making well-informed spending decisions can worsen the situation.

Military food insecurity is a serious issue affecting soldiers and their families. According to Feeding America, nearly a quarter of military families experience food insecurity. To tackle this issue, it helps to have some practical budgeting tips and a little extra support from different resources.


How to Budget for Food

Below are four steps to create affordable meals for military families:

  1. Cook from scratch: Creating more home-cooked meals is a cost-effective approach. It saves you money; unlike ordering take-out/ fast food dinners, homecooked meals allow you to control the ingredients you and your family consume.
  2. Buy value brands: Purchase store brands that are just as good as well-known brands, price check great value brands to name brands, and you’ll notice a significant price difference. Test the store-brand items and see if they’ll spark your and your family’s taste buds.
  3. Buy in bulk! Apply for a membership at Sam’s Club, Costco, or BJ’s (if you’re on the East Coast). Shopping for a large family plus shopping in bulk equals hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars being saved annually. Less frequent grocery store visits. It only makes sense to shop in bulk. There, you’ll find unit price deals. Buying in bulk for wholesale pricing is a lifesaver for large families.
  4. Safely freeze and store your leftover food: Properly storing and freezing leftover food can extend its shelf life and reduce waste, ensuring you get the most out of every meal.


Other Ways to Save

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) plays a crucial role in supporting military families by offering food assistance through its food assistance programs:

ASYMCA Military Food Pantry

The ASYMCA Food Pantry helps alleviate financial burdens and ensures access to nutritious meals for junior enlisted families (E6 and below) who need extra support. This military food pantry provides a range of grocery supplies at little to no cost, directly addressing food insecurity among military families.

ASYMCA Neighborhood Exchange

The Neighborhood Exchange is a monthly event held at select ASYMCA branches that offers free diapers and a variety of food items. Vendors at these events often provide additional resources, enhancing the support available to military families.

Military Exchanges and Commissaries

For daily shopping needs, the Army and Air Force Exchange Services and local commissaries offer competitively priced goods tailored to the needs of military personnel, retirees, and their families. These facilities frequently run special deals and offer bulk purchasing options, making them a smart choice for stretching your budget further. Most commissaries have also adapted to modern shopping habits by introducing “CLICK2GO,” their online shopping and curbside pickup service, which adds convenience to affordability.

Moreover, military families can benefit from various community resources, such as the military food pantry palooza, which occurs alongside the monthly distribution events at the commissary. These events are designed to provide essential items like diapers and food at no cost, with additional support from local vendors.


Planning Your Meals

Creating a grocery list and planning meals can significantly save you both time and money. This approach helps prevent overspending on unnecessary items, and purchasing unhealthy products and assists in staying within your budget. Dedicating time to plan your family’s meals for the week is an essential step. Below, find a list of meal suggestions tailored for military families that can guide you in crafting your initial weekly shopping list and menu.

A military mom's easy weekly meal plan for summer

A military mom's suggested shopping list for summer meals

Storing Leftovers

Once your meal plan and shopping list are ready, it’s time to focus on maximizing your leftovers. Start by researching proper food safety techniques for freezing various foods and understanding their storage lifespans. After allowing leftovers to cool, store them in airtight freezer bags to maintain freshness for months—or even up to a year, depending on the type of food. When packaging leftovers, consider dividing them into smaller portions to simplify reheating and to better keep track of your inventory.

Pro Tip: Label your zip-lock bags and maintain a freezer inventory list! Properly storing and freezing leftovers not only reduces food waste but also saves time and money. Later, you and your family can enjoy a quick and effortless meal.


Making Memories with Meal-Prepping

Engaging your children in the meal-prepping process can be both educational and fun. Assign them age-appropriate tasks such as gathering all the airtight containers or helping with labeling. This practice teaches them valuable life skills and principles of home economics, while also providing precious bonding time in the kitchen. It’s a win/win situation, where both you and your child can learn and grow together.


Summer Meal Ideas for a Week

When it comes to military cooking recipes, think outside the box and get creative with your favorite food items to whip up something new and exciting. Use the abundance of summer produce to add vibrant flavors and nutrients to your meals. Here are some innovative and delightful recipes to energize your routine and bring joy to your family’s dining table:

Summertime Breakfasts

Summer breakfast meals are my all-time favorite because this is the perfect season to eat light and enjoy nature’s bounty. The variety of fruit is limitless: mixed berry smoothies, acai bowls, frozen yogurt topped with granola, and your favorite summer fruits.

For a refreshing start to your day, try a tropical fruit salad in a jar, mixing all your favorite fruits. Another delightful option is the summer fruit quinoa breakfast bake. This wholesome dish combines whole grains, peaches, strawberries, sliced bananas, brown sugar, coconut flakes, cinnamon, oats, vanilla extract, a pinch of salt, milk, and eggs. You and your children should also try the coconut apple date almond breakfast mix. It’s healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare, and can be enjoyed with Greek yogurt, milk, or cottage cheese. It’s a must-try that your family will surely enjoy.

Summer Lunch and Snack

For lunch, whip up a fancy tomato sandwich with cheese, tomatoes, spinach, fried onions, and garlic butter spread on a baguette. This is my go-to for my children’s lunch; it’s quick and easy to make with several variations. If your children prefer lettuce, avocado, or even a half slice of a boiled egg, feel free to customize.
Another idea for a healthy and quick snack is tropical fruit in a mason jar. Layering your favorite fruits in one jar is a fun and easy way to make a snack.

As we embrace the summer season, start your grill with fresh lean meats and in-season fruits and vegetables. Try making a grilled pizza with your kids for an engaging and exciting cooking experience. Grilling on the weekends or your days off and stocking up on leftovers is perfect for enjoying with your family throughout the week. As a very busy mom cooking for a large family, I find making larger portions to freeze saves time later in the week and allows me to focus on other important tasks.

It’s been a pleasure to share these strategies for creating military cooking recipes and affordable meals for military families. The most important takeaway from this blog is the wealth of advice and resources available to support military families and reduce military food insecurity. Many military families are unaware of these resources and struggle to locate a military food pantry.


ASYMCA is Here for Military Families

Since 2020, amid the pandemic, many military spouses have faced job losses, struggling to supplement their family’s income. Military food insecurity has doubled since then, exacerbating the challenges that military families face. Rising inflation further adds to the financial strain, impacting soldiers’ focus and performance on the frontlines while their families back home endure hardships to make ends meet.

The ASYMCA has been dedicated to serving soldiers and their families for over 160 years. As a non-profit organization, ASYMCA offers a range of programs and services designed to support military families during critical times such as deployments, transitions between installations, and periods of food insecurity. From childcare to early child development programs and health and well-being initiatives, ASYMCA provides vital assistance to those in need.

Donate today to support ASYMCA’s programs and services, helping military families combat food insecurity and overcome the unique challenges of military life.