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Good Food At The Heart Of Healthy Kids

Guest Post by The Capital Area Food Bank for #PHABack2School

Mother and daughter receiving food at the Washington DC, Capital Area Food Bank

School is getting back into session, and classrooms are filling back up with students. Many kids will be arriving with fresh notebooks and sharpened pencils, ready for the year ahead.

But one of the most important tools for effective learning won’t be found on any school supply list: a stomach full of good, nutritious food is critical for any child heading into a day of reading, writing, and thinking.

When kids go to school well-nourished, they’re better set up for success in the classroom. According to research cited by the CDC, eating a healthy breakfast is associated with improved cognitive function (especially memory), reduced absenteeism, and improved mood.

For far too many children in our country, however, food is scarce at home. 13.1 million children live in “food insecure” households where meals aren’t always available.

This has serious impacts. Studies have found that food insecurity has been associated with health problems for kids that may hinder their ability to function normally and participate fully in school and other activities. (If you’ve ever missed lunch to make a meeting or a deadline, you know how challenging even part of a day without a full stomach can be). Hungry children may become sick more frequently; miss school more often, and suffer from developmental challenges.

Kid with cabbage at Capital Area Food Bank in Washington DC

Child hunger is a particularly pressing issue in the metro area served by the Capital Area Food Bank. In DC alone, nearly one third of kids are at risk of going without enough to eat.

That’s why the CAFB is committed to helping kids and parents get access to good, healthy food throughout the year.

During the academic year, we use schools as a venue for reaching parents and children with produce and groceries through three different types of free monthly markets. And we pair the food we distribute with easy to use recipe cards that make it easy to transform simple ingredients into fast, delicious, good-for-you meals (many of which are kid-friendly, and simple enough to allow children to help parents with preparation). Reaching families at schools enables parents and children to pick out food together, and encourages the formation of healthy food habits, which is more likely when nutritious food is available to children as their pallets are forming.

We also partner with rec centers, after care programs, and other community sites to provide after school and weekend meals for kids who may not have food waiting at home.

When school is out of session, it can be an especially hard for kids who no longer have access to free breakfast and lunch, so the food bank also provides summertime meals at many of the same rec centers and community spaces.

Sometimes, kids can’t get to those traditional summer meal locations on foot, as is the case in parts of northern Virginia where a highway cuts off walking access for kids to many brick and mortar sites (something we discovered with the help of our Hunger Heat Map, which looks at food we’re distributing overlaid against the food needs in a community). So we’ve gotten creative, and retrofitted a school bus that delivers lunch to kids in hard to reach areas throughout the summer months.

With so much learning, playing, and growing to do, worrying about where a next meal will be coming from is the last thing children should have on their minds. With the support of the community, the Capital Area Food Bank is working to get kids the good food they need for their bodies and minds so that their attention can stay where it’s needed most: in the classroom, and on building bright, happy, and healthy futures.

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