Summertime means vacation for many kids, but when school cafeterias close, almost one in five children in Colorado become "food insecure" at risk of not having enough food.

Summertime means vacation for many kids, but when school cafeterias close, almost one in five children in Colorado become "food insecure" at risk of not having enough food.

That's the conclusion of a report from Hunger Free Colorado, but there is a program designed to fill that hunger gap. It's the Summer Food Service Program. Jody Valente is program associate with the Western Colorado Community Foundation.

"During the summer months, kids really lose access to the daily meals that they're receiving at school," says Valente. "So, there's a huge gap in the summer where kids may not know where their next meal is coming from."

But despite the need for summer meals, Valente says the program remains underutilized. The report says only one in seven children in the country who participate in school lunch programs also get summer meals.

In Colorado, it's estimated fewer than one in 11 children take part.

Valente adds the report found getting enough food is a big issue for kids living in rural areas where barriers between kids and summer meals are often greater.

"Summer meal sites are not in convenient locations for various reasons, they may have to cross a really busy road, or it might be just too far away for them to get to," says Valente. "Almost 40 percent of the families who were interviewed said transportation to the sites is a major barrier."

She notes many locations aren't open five days a week and there are limits on where meals can be served based on the percentage of children in the area eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Valente says one proven alternative is the summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, which adds money to debit cards during summer months. A pilot effort showed children ate more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and the program reduced severe child hunger by 33 percent.

"But with the EBT program, parents have direct access to additional resources to help kind of offset hunger needs and to actually purchase groceries on their own when it's convenient for them," she says. "So it seems like a real beneficial way to get extra nutrition to kids."

Congress is currently considering whether or not to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which oversees summer meal programs.