How To Talk To Your Kids About Food Insecurity

By Suzanne Tormollen

A staggering 7,000 children in Orange County are on free and reduced meal plans at school and, therefore can be considered at risk for hunger. That’s more than one in three kids who are food insecure, meaning they lack consistent access to sufficient and adequate quality food to meet their basic needs. 

Everybody knows what it feels like to be hungry, but for many kids in our community hunger can be scary and may mean not knowing where their next meal is coming from. With one in three kids at risk for hunger, the chances that someone in your child’s classroom or school does not have enough to eat is pretty high. The problem is vast but often hidden. 

With the holidays approaching many people are thinking about how they can give back to their communities. We are experiencing an increase in requests for how people can host their own food drives and many are family-oriented and include children. 

So, how do you talk to your child about food insecurity and explain the value of donating to organizations such as TABLE?

Talking about hunger and its root causes are important first steps to building awareness and driving real social change. Teaching our kids about helping others now will help them grow up with the skills and empathy to better their community as adults. 

The conversation will be different for different ages but here are a few general tips that we’ve uncovered through research and from our personal experiences with raising our children and working with our families. 

  • Start the conversation with a question such as, how do you feel when you are hungry? What would you feel like if you couldn’t have lunch or a snack when you got home from school? Would certain things be harder to do without having a snack?
  • For younger children, it can be helpful to find a way to connect the topic to a situation in their life. For example, perhaps remind them of a time when they were tired or cranky and how they felt better after they had a snack. Making this connection can have a lasting impact on your child.
  • Ask what they might already know about childhood hunger. They may have talked about it already at school. Let them share what they know through their own words and actions. This will provide you with a benchmark for the discussion.
  • Avoid saying things like “less fortunate” or “poor” or “in need”. Instead, describe circumstances such as “having a hard time” or “their job doesn’t pay enough” or “it’s expensive to pay for food”. By phrasing things in circumstances you are putting the responsibility back on society instead of the person. 

Being mindful of the language you use can help your children learn empathy and move towards erasing the stigma around hunger. We have such an awesome opportunity to teach them empathy and with empathy comes compassion and understanding. 

Food insecurity looks different for everyone. There is no one way to look if you are hungry. And, many kids who experience hunger feel embarrassed about receiving free meals at school. Breaking the cycle by teaching kids how to be compassionate toward others in a difficult situation instead of passing judgment is incredibly important.

So, what are some things you can do with your kids to give back?

  • You can help your child organize a food drive at their school or in your neighborhood.
  • Your kids can sell hot chocolate or lemonade and donate the proceeds.
  • Maybe start a home garden to grow fresh fruits and vegetables that can then be donated.
  • Next time you have friends over, ask if they can bring a food item that can be donated.
  • When you are grocery shopping, ask your child to pick out 3 items of food they want to donate.
  • And, of course, volunteer with your kids. TABLE has a kids’ shift every week!

A mother of two kids, including an 11-year-old son who has autism, told us, “Since we started with TABLE I can make my children healthy after-school snacks now! My son came home and said, “I love homemade snacks, they make me feel safe and comfy.”

Isn’t that how we all want our kids to feel, safe and comfy? Whether you are a parent, guardian, teacher, or community member, there are so many ways you can make a difference!

If you want some additional reading sources for your kids. Here’s a list we found in our research:

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