Hunger & Food Insecurity

The United States Department of Agriculture's latest report on Food Security in the United States found that 1 in 8 children, lived in food insecure households in 2021.  

Kids who don’t have reliable access to food are much more likely to face unhealthy, unsuccessful and uncertain futures. Hunger and Food Security in America, authored by the research firm RTI, provides a comprehensive review of the persistent problem of hunger and food insecurity.  The report considers the common causes, the negative consequences and key programs that can alleviate hunger and food insecurity. 

Immigrant Food Insecurity

The overwhelming majority of children of immigrants (87%) are U.S. citizens. Many of these children are eligible to receive resources provided by our nation’s federal child nutrition programs—including free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunch, free summer meals, and monthly SNAP and WIC benefits.  However, the “chilling effect” of the 2019 public charge rule and the ever-shifting landscape of federal and state immigration policies have created an environment of instability, confusion, fear, and isolation within immigrant communities.  

In 2022, Share Our Strength – No Kid Hungry invested more than $1 million to support 17 predominantly Latino-serving organizations’ efforts to increase SNAP enrollment and provide food for families in need. The Leah Zallman Center for Immigrant Health Research (LZC) led a participatory evaluation to learn how grantee organizations fed families and fostered an environment of safety and belonging.   English and Spanish language versions of the research report, executive summary, and quick facts can be found here

Rural Food Insecurity

Broadly, food insecurity affects 1 in 8 children in the United States.  However, poverty is slightly higher in rural areas than in urban areas: 15 percent in rural areas versus 12% in urban areas in 2019.    

Research on Rural Food Insecurity: 

  • Share Our Strength and Feeding America ​​​​​​partnered with a team of researchers from six universities, led by North Carolina State University, on an in-depth qualitative study in 2019 to explore what makes it easier or harder for families in rural areas to provide food for their kids. The study is the first to provide an in-depth exploration of the experiences of food insecurity in six rural counties across the United States.  This qualitative study involved more than 150 interviews with families in six states.    The Rural Food Insecurity Qualitative Research Brief, released in 2020, has more information on the study design and findings.
  • Share Our Strength and Feeding America also published a joint report that broadly examines the overlooked crisis of children living with the threat of hunger in rural America.  The Child Hunger in Rural America report includes statistics on poverty gleaned from secondary sources, highlights from our qualitative research focused on interviews with rural families, and learnings from the 2019 Rural Child Hunger Summit.    

Strategies Generated by Families and Practitioners to Address Rural Food Insecurity

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Data demonstrates that food insecurity is higher among specific sociodemographic groups that experience disparities, with regard to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, and disability for example. While the USDA federal nutrition programs, combined with state and local efforts, have been successful in helping to reduce food and nutrition insecurity, there is still work to be done to address disparities and inequities in program access and food and nutrition insecurity. No Kid Hungry funded a scoping review research project to summarize existing strategies that have been used to address equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) and intersectionality (i.e., intersecting stigma regarding social position) within nutrition programs.  The full research report can be found here.

The Impact of Breakfast After the Bell

One of the most effective ways to significantly boost school breakfast participation is to make it part of the school day, serving Breakfast After the Bell. Breakfast After the Bell can have positive benefits on children's educational and health outcomes.

Schools are one of the most effective ways we can help vulnerable children in the United States, from providing the lasting power of education to meals and necessary social services. Schools can only help students, however, if they show up.  Nearly 8 million students are missing at least three weeks of the school year, making them chronically absent.   Chronic absenteeism can lead reduced student achievement, an increased likelihood of dropping out and a greater risk of becoming unemployed adults.

The No Kid Hungry campaign commissioned a study examining whether serving breakfast after the bell as a regular part of the school day can reduce chronic absenteeism.   The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara, included an analysis of state-level and national data.  

  • A Study on Chronic Absenteeism and Breakfast After the Bell has two resources: 
    • The Microreport is a four-page brochure that provides a snapshot of the University of California Santa Barbara's study.  The study found that Breakfast After the Bell can reduce chronic absenteeism by an average of 6 percentage points.  
    • The Research Brief provides a detailed summary of the University of California Santa Barbara's study.  This brief is geared towards those who wish to dive more deeply into the research.

The simple act of feeding kids a healthy school breakfast can be associated with dramatic impacts, including positive outcomes in education and well-being.   A report by Deloitte also found that schools that serve Breakfast After the Bell have higher breakfast participation, lower absenteeism and improved test scores.  Better performance and attendance at school can lead to greater job-readiness and self-sufficiency after high school.

Educators' Perspectives on School Breakfast

Educators can play a critical role in implementing and supporting Breakfast After the Bell programs. Research shows that educators see hunger as a serious issue, acknowledge the importance of breakfast and support Breakfast After the Bell.

Educators have first-hand knowledge of the challenges their students face, including a lack of adequate food, and often have a front-row seat to seeing improvements in students who do eat a healthy breakfast.   Educators across the country report children coming to school hungry and acknowledge the importance of breakfast.  Educators support Breakfast After the Bell and see the benefits it can have on children. 

  • Hunger in Our Schools 2017 showcases the voices and perspectives of educators across the country and documents the hunger they see in their classrooms. Three-quarters of school teachers say students regularly come to school hungry and that this negatively impacts their students and classroom. Teachers who implemented breakfast in the classroom report a positive effect on student behavior and readiness to learn.
  • NYC Teacher Survey Summary Memo reports that two-thirds of NYC teachers say students coming to class hungry is a major problem at their school. Nearly nine in ten teachers say breakfast is important for students’ academic achievement. Recognizing the tremendous impact that breakfast could have on student health and academic achievement, eight in ten teachers support having breakfast in the classroom in their schools.
  • IL Teacher Survey Microreport shows that three in four public school teachers in Illinois see children come hungry to school at least once a month and say that without breakfast, children’s academic performance and health suffer. Two-thirds of teachers overwhelmingly support school-provided breakfast in the classroom as a solution to child hunger, and three-quarters of teachers who currently participate in the program say it has been a positive experience.
Parents’ Perspectives on School Breakfast

Understanding parents' perspectives can shed light on the need for school breakfast and effective ways to promote the program.

Parents recognize the importance of a healthy breakfast. Gathering parent perspectives on how to market the school breakfast program can boost participation.   

  • NYC School Focus Group Findings: Advocacy Case Study provides a summary of the results from a school breakfast focus group with New York City parents.   Parents provided their feedback on what would make children more likely to participate.
  • NYC School Focus Groups Lessons LearnedThis two-page document identifies key takeaways from focus groups with parents about the best ways to market school breakfast, including what information would be helpful for parents, the precise language that parents respond to and the preferred channels for communication.
Implementation of Universal School Meals During COVID-19 and Beyond

During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools provided free meals to all students in the United States, but this national Universal School Meals (USM) policy (also known as Healthy School Meals for All or, “HSM4A”) ended in school year (SY) 2022-23. A few states adopted state-level USM policies for SY 2022-23 and several more states have either passed or are currently considering similar legislation for upcoming school years. Universal school meals policies can have potentially positive impacts on child health outcomes. Yet, research is needed to understand challenges and successful strategies for continuing USM, along with examining pandemic-related challenges that are likely to persist in schools beyond the public health crisis. We spoke to parents and school food authority staff in Maine and California—states that passed legislation to continue USM indefinitely—about the impact of USM policies in their states.

COVID-19 Pandemic School Meals and Learnings for Future Operations

Previously, researchers in Maryland and North Carolina interviewed local child nutrition program leadership and staff to understand new practices that were being implemented during the pandemic and elaborated perceived benefits of USDA waiver flexibilities for school meal operations. In this qualitative study, we looked at the same data to understand how these lessons learned influenced future operations.

While we continue to learn about school meals implementation during pandemic school closures, limited insight exists on how implementation evolved as schools resumed and what components of waiver implementation may be sustainable beyond waiver expiration in 2022. Our prior understanding of school meal programs operations under COVID-19 waivers reflected local sponsor perspectives and did not originally include the important perspectives of the state agencies overseeing local sponsors. The interplay of state agencies’ administration of schools meals programs and local sponsors’ implementation of school meals during the pandemic was investigated in this follow-up qualitative study covering a purposive sample of state agency and local agency staff representing all seven USDA regions.

Rural Non-Congregate Summer Meals in 2023: Insights from the First Year of a New Program

In rural communities, non-congregate meal programs like grab-and-go and direct home delivery can operate where congregate meals are not available in order to reach even more children during the summer months. The purpose of this study was to describe the implementation and elucidate lessons learned from this historic first year of the non-congregate summer meals option in rural areas in summer 2023. Through a combination of documented conversations and surveys with state agencies and sponsors, as well as Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry (NKH) staff who work directly with states, we have pieced together a comprehensive picture of what summer 2023 implementation of non-congregate meals looked like in terms of challenges, successes, and opportunities to expand and improve the program in summer 2024 and beyond.  The research resources include a full report in addition to two micro-reports focused on sponsor and state agency perspectives.

2023 Summer Meals Survey of Rural Families

In late 2022, Congress made non-congregate meal service during the summer for children living in rural areas permanent. While federal regulations stipulated that non-congregate meal service sites are only allowed to operate if there is not already site access to a congregate setting, limited guidance on defining site access to congregate sites for summer 2023 was provided. While features like location, transportation, and safety are important practical considerations for State Agencies, Sponsors, and families, Share Our Strength-No Kid Hungry wanted to further understand the preferences and experiences of rural families with low income, in particular the unique hardship the summer places on families relative to the school year, experiences with summer meals, and their preferences for meal service given on-site (congregate) and take home (non-congregate) models. Survey results help continue our understanding of the needs of rural families during the summer.

Parents’ Perspectives on Summer Meals

Parents experience challenges in making ends meet during the summer. Research with parents demonstrates the need for summer meals, challenges and facilitators to participation and preferred communication channels.

No Kid Hungry conducted a national summer meals survey with low-income parents to understand the need for and interest in summer meals and facilitators to participation.  The survey found that summer hunger is a serious issue.  More than half of families participating in free or reduced price lunch during the school year find it harder to make ends meet during the summer. Most low-income families (62 percent) report spending more on food during the summer, with an average increase of $316 more per month.  While most low-income families (68 percent) were interested in summer meals programs, only 40 percent are aware of where summer meal sites are located.  Families most trusted schools as a source of information about summer meals programs, followed by places of worship and grocery stores.   

In a series of summer meals focus groups, we found that parents believe that the benefits associated with summer meal programs include free food and activities provided in a safe environment.  Barriers to participation include transportation, concerns about safety and legitimacy of sites, food quality and availability of activities.   Similar to the results of the national survey, focus group research found that parents would like to receive information about summer meals through schools. Parents also would like to receive information about summer meals in the mail, local radio and TV stations, community newspapers and local supermarkets.

Sponsors’ Perspectives on Summer Meals

Program sponsors are community providers who ensure children and families have access to summer meals when school is out. Understanding the experiences and perspectives of summer meal sponsors can help advocates support summer meals program growth and help administrators to support sponsors.

Sponsor Survey Results Summary: No Kid Hungry and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) launched a national survey of summer meal sponsors that provided insight into their experiences, challenges, and opportunities to grow their programs.  Overall, more than 70 percent of sponsors were satisfied or very satisfied with the summer meal programs. Sixty-nine percent of sponsors offered activities at all of their sites, and 36 percent offered paid meals to parents at all of their sites.  If they had additional funds or capacity, summer sponsors most frequently said that they would increase the number of children served through current sites as a means to expand their program. The findings from the sponsor survey can help advocates to support growth in summer meals and help administrators to support sponsors.

State Campaign Case Studies

No Kid Hungry supported various case study evaluations of state efforts to increase summer meal participation, uncovering common themes that can help inform summer meals outreach and expansion efforts. States' successes can provide valuable lessons in how to end summer hunger.

No Kid Hungry has supported evaluations of local summer outreach and expansion efforts across the country.  The research uncovered some common themes, including the importance of programming at summer meals sites, the need to focus on site and sponsor retention and the benefit of local outreach strategies.

  • Collective Impact Case Study: No Kid Hungry partnered with Community Wealth Partners to study intentional collaboration efforts in Detroit and Baltimore that led to a respective 29 percent and a 10 percent increase in summer meals in these cities.  The case study powerfully describes how the intentional collaboration efforts in Detroit and Baltimore helped reduce summer hunger.
  • Arkansas 2013: A Summer Meals Success Story: In Arkansas, the most effective way to recruit new summer meals sites was to offer small grants and hire local community members to work in their regions.  The evaluation recommends that future summer meals work focus on site and sponsor retention. The report also recommends that expansion efforts focus on organizations that have access to a kitchen, multiple site locations or strong relationships with other organizations in their communities.    
  • Colorado No Kid Hungry 2012 Summer Meals Evaluation: The evaluation recommends focusing on sponsor and site retention and strengthening capacity; emphasizing the need for programming at summer meal sites; developing local outreach strategies; and increasing coordination, communication and planning among partners to ensure long-term success of the program.
  • Maryland 2012 Evaluation The evaluation recommends focusing on recruiting and retaining sites with greater capacity, emphasizing the need for programming at summer meal sites and deploying canvassers at strategic times to increase contacts with households.
Program Trends

The At-Risk Afterschool Meals program has grown tremendously but the data shows that there are still gaps in participation.

To Meet the Need, Growth in Afterschool Meals Must Continue: In the five years since the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program became a permanent and nationwide component of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the number of suppers served annually has more than quadrupled. Despite this enormous growth, there is still a big gap: only one afterschool snack or meal is served for every ten school lunches going to kids in need across the country.   

Parents’ Perspectives on Afterschool Meals

Understanding the perspectives of parents sheds light on the need for (and interest in) afterschool meals as well as effective ways to promote the program.

No Kid Hungry conducted a national afterschool meals survey to learn more from low-income parents about their need for afterschool meals, interest in afterschool meals programs and effective ways to promote these programs. Parents indicated a strong need for afterschool meals: 59 percent of parents reported that they have tight household budgets, making it difficult to provide food after school is out, and 25 percent worry that their children do not have enough to eat between lunch and breakfast the following day. While most parents already expressed an interest in afterschool programs, 73 percent of parents said they would be even more interested in an afterschool program if it provided free healthy food. Parents wanted to receive information about afterschool programs through schools or other local channels.

National Survey of Parents of Young Children

Parents of young children have a critical role in caring for and feeding their children. Understanding their experiences and perspectives is critical to supporting families with young children.

Early childhood is a critical period of growth, nutrition, and development, and parents have a key role to play in caring for their young children.  No Kid Hungry partnered with APCO Insight to conduct a national survey among low-income families who have children five years old and younger during 2016-2017.  

The National Early Childhood Survey Summary Brief highlights the survey’s key findings on parents' and caregivers' experiences with hunger, participation in programs, food preparation practices and child care arrangements and preferences.   There are additional briefs from the national survey that dive deeply into particular topics:

The Why Low Income Moms of Young Children Matter two-page document further summarizes research on why mothers of children under five have a critical role to play in shaping their young children’s eating habits.    


Pandemic Food Insecurity among Young Children

No Kid Hungry and the Center for Best Practices partnered with researchers and leaders to illuminate the food hardships experienced by young children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

  • In the wake of the pandemic, research from both the Urban Institute and the Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution confirmed what many feared from the beginning: babies and toddlers experiencing hunger at alarming rates.
  • Powerful research from the Urban Institute also gave voice to the stories and experiences of parents trying to feed their young kids during COVID in 2021.   
  • While the pandemic was an especially challenging period for families feeding young children, programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) can provide critical support to parents.  The Montana New Family Assistance Project examined the experiences of parents of young children newly enrolled in nutrition assistance programs and found that federal waivers and flexibilities for WIC, such as remote appointments, eased WIC recruitment and retention by removing barriers to application and appointment attendance. WIC also increased access to nutritious meals.  Prior to WIC participation, nearly two-thirds of respondents ate foods that were less expensive even though they were less nutritious. Following WIC enrollment, this decreased to one-quarter.  Still, nearly seven in ten respondents worried about running out of food before they could buy more. The research report shares recommendations to support families during public health crises.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, provide benefits for families to purchase groceries.  Not only does SNAP support food security for families, the redemption of grocery benefits also puts money back into the broader economy.   

Online Ordering

Online grocery shopping has grown among the general population in recent years.  The USDA has also been working to expand access to SNAP participants.  Online ordering represents a key opportunity for program modernization.  It also has potential to expand food options for families.  To support food and nutrition access, it is essential to explore how online grocery ordering can be leveraged by households in rural areas and among families receiving SNAP.

The No Kid Hungry Online Grocery Shopping study, conducted in partnership with University of Kentucky with support from Instacart, examined the experiences, benefits, and challenges of online grocery shopping.  The study focused on families with low incomes, including SNAP recipients and rural residents, and also delved into the perspectives of store managers.  

Family Economic Security

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is a key policy in the pathway to family economic security.  In 2021, the passage of a national law temporarily expanded the CTC to most families with children.  

To improve awareness and uptake of this expanded Child Tax Credit, Share Our Strength provided grants to organizations and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites to improve outreach, tax assistance, and advocacy.  The grant cohort were part of a Community of Practice that facilitated learning and sharing, relationship building, and tailored support in pursuit of common goals.

Share our Strength partnered with Urban Institute to conduct an assessment of successes, challenges, strategies, and results. The Community of Practice evaluation includes a case study of grantees in each of the 10 states, as well as two briefs on nationally focused work being led by the National Disability Institute and work with Native communities in three additional states supported by the Oweesta Corporation.