Kids and teenagers in Baton Rouge can eat for free this summer at schools, churches, parks and other sites across the city-parish as part of a government program Baton Rouge has put on for decades.

Kids ate more than 356,000 free meals as part of the program last summer, and Mayor-President Kip Holden and other program sponsors said Tuesday that they hope to exceed that number this year.

Any child under 18 can receive the free meals regardless of household income, and local officials said they struggled to make people aware that their children can eat for free.

The lack of awareness has led to some children going hungry during the summers because their families cannot afford to feed them three meals a day.

Holden said they also have seen the opposite problem — some studies show that children are prone to gain more weight during the summer as they snack on more fattening foods.

Most of the 60 sites providing free meals across Baton Rouge, Baker and Central will serve breakfast and lunch, but people should check with the sites to know for sure, Holden said. The food provided will be nutritious, according to Holden.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides the food, and local workers from the school systems, Big Buddy and other organizations serve it.

The USDA summer food service program also is available in many cities nationwide. The USDA website reports that it plans to serve more than 200 million free meals this summer.

“There’s no reason for any child in this parish to go hungry,” Holden said.

For the first time this year, the meals also will be available at Our Lady of the Lake’s pediatrics clinic on Goodwood Boulevard.

Our Lady of the Lake’s Chief Medical Officer Shaun Kemmerly said children and their siblings will be able to eat at the clinic when they go for appointments.

The free meals at the clinic will be available starting May 26.

While the other meal sites at schools and churches are encouraging people near and far to show up, Kemmerly said the clinic’s program is just geared toward its patients for this year.

Holden reported that the number of meals being served increased last summer by nearly 27 percent, or 75,000 more meals.

People can check the closest sites to receive free meals at the Healthy BR website, healthybr.com, under Summer Food Service Program.

Big Buddy Program Executive Director Gaylynne Mack also said that any church groups or other organizations hoping to provide free meals this summer should contact her at (225) 388-9737.