Nutrition in the United States

Bread for the World is urging Congress to renew our federal government’s major child nutrition programs, including those for school meals, summer feeding, and the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutrition program for pregnant and new mothers along with their small children.

Every five years, Congress must re-authorize the law that funds these programs, which have helped millions of children over the decades. Thanks to the leadership of Bread for the World and its church partners, the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act expanded and improved these programs.

Now is the time to renew these national nutrition programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016 in January. This bill renews child nutrition programs and includes a number of good first steps to give children at risk of hunger access to healthy meals.

This legislation includes many of provisions Bread supports. For example, the bill proposes to:

  • streamline summer and after-school meal programs
  • allow some states to provide summer EBT (electronic benefits transfer) for a limited number of children
  • allow some states to provide alternative summer meal deliveries under particular circumstances

In May, the House Education and Workforce Committee passed H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016. As written, the bill makes harmful changes that could deny tens of thousands of eligible children access to nutritious meals. The bill would make it harder for children to access free school meals and includes a proposal to fund school meal programs through block grants to states. This would effectively cap and cut funding for school breakfast and lunch programs. It also fails to address the summer hunger gap. Read more about H.R. 5003.

We must continue to urge Congress to pass a bipartisan bill that improves and strengthens child nutrition programs. As the child nutrition reauthorization process moves forward, take a few minutes to write letters to your members of Congress.

Despite gains made in 2010, too many children are unable to get the meals they need to stay healthy and hunger-free. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

The Facts

Nearly 16 million children in the United States — one in five — live in households that struggle to put food on the table. Many of these children have parents who have job and work hard, but their wages aren’t high enough to cover the high costs of rent, transportation, and utilities — and daily meals.

So our federal government’s feeding programs serve as a lifeline for vulnerable children and families. Because children are hit especially hard by the effects of hunger and malnutrition, nutrition programs aimed at children are particularly important.

A healthy start in life — even before a child is born — pays off for years, not only for individual children and families, but for communities and our nation as a whole.

Only one out of every 20 grocery bags that feed people who are hungry come from church food pantries and other private charities. Federal nutrition programs, from school meals to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), provide the rest. Our government’s child nutrition programs serve millions of children each year. 

Most of these programs provide ready-to-eat food in places where children can be reached directly. Food provided through these programs meets science-based nutrition guidelines.

To receive free or reduced-price meals or WIC benefits, children must live in households that are “low-income” as defined by the federal government. 


The new Congress has an opportunity to give more children at risk of hunger access to the healthy food they need. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Act Now

In this important time of action on child nutrition programs, Congress needs to hear from people across the country that it should invest in children now.

Congress has an opportunity to give more children at risk of hunger access to the healthy food they need. But there are challenges in doing so.

There are new members and new leaders with little to no experience with child hunger or child nutrition programs. These members of Congress must be educated on the importance of feeding children.

Additionally, the tight national budget and political climate make it harder to talk about programs that require more funding.

Still, Congress must act to give children at risk of hunger access to healthy meals. For every 6 low-income children receiving school lunches, only about half also get school breakfasts, and only 1 also gets meals during the summer. Too many children lack access to feeding programs or find it difficult to participate.

Write to Congress

Barbi Izquierdo with her son. Photo: Joe Molieri / Bread for the World

Real-Life Story About Nutrition Programs for Children

Lunch 'n' Learn

At precisely 11:20 a.m. on a cold, late-fall morning, the bell rings at Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pa. A minute later, the morning stillness in the cafeteria is disrupted by the conversations and shouts of more than 200 second graders. They file into the room by classroom and go through the line to pick up their lunches. For the next couple of hours, the large room is filled with noise and energy.

Among the first group of students eating a school-provided lunch daily is Aidan, the 7-year-old son of Barbie Izquierdo. His sister, Leylanie, age 9, will eat lunch during her grade’s appointed time 40 minutes later.

This lunchtime routine plays out every weekday at the school and in schools across the United States. Whether it’s breakfast in the morning before classes or lunch at midday, the food provided to school children under national nutrition programs gives them the energy they need for the next few hours of learning. Meals provided after school or at day-care centers are also important parts of the national nutrition program.

While these children don’t think about it, the food that is subsidized by the federal government is quietly nourishing their bodies and brains so they can learn and grow. As Mickey Komins, the principal at Anne Frank Elementary — and probably any educator — will tell you, “We’re teaching for a lifetime — not just for that day.” Read more.

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World

What We Want Congress to Do

Bread for the World is urging Congress to pass a child nutrition bill that protects nutrition programs and gives more hungry children access to the meals they need to thrive. Specifically, we are asking Congress to: 1) Continue strong investments in child nutrition programs; 2) Improve children’s access to feeding programs; 3) Ensure improvements to child nutrition programs are not paid for by cuts to other vital safety-net programs like SNAP.


Child Nutrition

May 18, 2015

For children's minds to be filled, their bellies need to be filled first.

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