How to tell if a child is struggling with hunger

Children at mobile pantry
October 5, 2018
by Jessica Schoen

Chances are, one of your children’s classmates at school is not getting enough to eat at home. If there are 25 kids in your child’s class, four of them could be facing hunger. That’s because 1 in 6 kids in the United States doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. That’s more than 12 million children across the country!

Kids who are hungry may struggle to concentrate in class and fall behind academically. They may also be more likely to miss school due to illness and suffer from irritability, low self-esteem or a lack of energy.

“Children need nutrients so that they can grow, develop and focus on learning instead of thinking about the food they need,” says Christina Martinez, Program Manager of Children and Families at Feeding America. “Ultimately, they need to be able to concentrate in the classroom, so they can succeed and reach their full potential.”

They may feel so ashamed of not getting enough to eat that they keep it hidden from the adults who care about them the most. That makes it challenging to identify a child struggling with hunger. But you can look out for these signs:

  • They ask about food every day and they’re not picky about what they eat. 
  • They suddenly lose or gain weight but don’t change their activity level.
  • They hoard snacks and food.
  • They bully others or behave badly.
  • They have a poor attention span, memory or trouble concentrating.
  • They are hyperactive or impulsive.
  • They show aggressive or antisocial behavior.

You may have noticed a child you know showing some or all these signs. The good news is that there are many ways to help and resources available to assist children and families in need.

If you are concerned that a student in your child’s class may be struggling with hunger, remember, it is important not to single them out or embarrass them in front of other students or teachers. We recommend expressing your concern to the school’s guidance counselor who can help connect them with the help they need. Claudio, a guidance counselor in Utah, noticed his students couldn’t concentrate because they came to school hungry. He worked with his local food bank to bring in a mobile pantry to help students get enough food at night and on the weekends.

Join other parents who care about helping hungry kids in your community and across the country, sign up for our newsletter to get suggestions on how you can help fight hunger.