Food Insecurity During the Holidays

Food Insecurity Facts and Stats

In 2019, 5.3 million children lived in food-insecure households. According to the USDA, food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. 

For many of those 5+ million children, the only meal they can count on is one provided through their schools. In 2019, 74% of lunches served under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) were free/reduced meals. That means 3 in 4 students come from low-income families, putting them at risk of facing food insecurity. So when school isn’t in session, what does that mean for those children?

According to this article, “Food Insecurity During the Holidays” by Every Child Matters, studies have found that food insecurity has been associated with health problems for children that may hinder their ability to function normally and participate fully in school and other activities.

  • Children who are food insecure are more likely to require hospitalization.
  • Children who are food insecure may be at higher risk for chronic health conditions, such as anemia, and asthma.
  • Children who are food insecure may have more frequent instances of oral health problems.
  • Food insecurity among young children is associated with a poorer physical quality of life, which may prevent them from fully engaging in daily activities such as school and social interaction with peers.
  • Food insecure children may be at greater risk of truancy and school tardiness.
  • When they are in school, children who are food insecure may experiences increases in an array of behavior problems including fighting, hyperactivity, aggression, anxiety, mood swings, and bullying

To combat food insecurity during the summer months, schools can participate in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or SSO (Seamless Summer Option). While these programs are perfect for summer, other programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) make it so students can be fed on weekends, all school holidays, and school breaks. 

2020 Holidays

During the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity among households with children has increased upwards of 65% and that is mostly attributed to the mass number of layoffs we have seen this year. 

As the holidays roll through this year, many districts have been required to send home meals with students. Directors across the country are thinking of ways to put meals in the hands of students to last through winter break and figuring out how to distribute those meals. To find this information, we went to one of our favorite Facebook groups – TIPS for School Meals That Rock, where nutrition professionals exchange ideas, seek and provide advice, and share photos of all kinds! Join here!

Depending on your district, you might find yourself having to send anywhere between 10-14 days worth of meals. This is a lot to prepare for as many districts will be doing this for the first time, consider some of the following ideas for sending home meals with students:

  • Don’t be afraid to serve what you normally would, but before you cook it! Frozen items like chicken patties, hamburger patties, and buns are great items to send home this winter (and popular!)
  • Consider sending home ingredients vs a meal at a time. Depending on what your current operations look like, sending home ingredients in bulk might be easier than putting the meals together yourself. For example, a gallon of milk is easier than gathering 8 small pints or bags of rice versus one serving in each meal. 
  • Some districts are sending home frozen pizzas as one pizza can count for up to 8 meals and are easy to cook and distribute. 
  • Looking for pre-made sandwiches? Brands like WOWBUTTER and SunButter offer pre-packed sandwiches so that students can enjoy a “PB&J” without worrying about allergens. 
  • Consider delivery options as many students are still virtual and not all parents are able to pick up meals during the day. Many districts are utilizing bus delivery to distribute meals, and while this might not work year-round for everyone, using school buses at least once to get meals in the hands of students will be worth it to help them brave through the winter break. 

However, you decide to serve meals during the holidays, remember that you are not alone in navigating this. This is a new experience for many districts and we are all trying to figure it out as we go. How has your district been trying to combat food insecurity amidst a pandemic during the holiday season? Let us know, send us an email at