While most of us take a piece of toast or a bowl of cereal in the morning as a given, a recently released report has revealed that one in five children went hungry last year, starting their day without breakfast in their bellies.
“Rumbling Tummies”, a report on child hunger in Australia compiled by Foodbank, a not-for-profit hunger relief organisation, showed some startling statistics facing vulnerable Australian children.
“This study aims to understand the scale of child food insecurity and determine the impact this has on the wellbeing of children, families and the broader community,” Foodbank Australia CEO Brianna Casey said.
More than 1000 parents with children under the age of 15 were asked whether they had experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months. Foodbank defines food security as anyone in a household running out of food and not having enough funds to purchase more.
Survey responses showed that more than 200 parents and children were found to be living in food insecure households, 23 per cent of these in regional or remote areas.
A second survey was launched sampling over 600 parents living in food insecure households. Over 18 per cent of those children went to school once a week without breakfast, 15 per cent went without lunch or money to buy lunch, and 11 per cent went to bed at least once a week without dinner.
A shocking 9 per cent of those children surveyed went an entire day, at least once a week, without eating at all.
“As a mother myself, I find the picture that emerges both heart-breaking and unacceptable. As a community, we might be excused for not hearing one stomach rumbling, but we simply cannot ignore the sound of the rumbling tummies of hundreds of thousands of children going hungry in Australia each year,” Ms Casey said.
To address this growing issue and to ensure children start the day with sustenance, Foodbank established the School Breakfast 4 Health program. Over 100 schools across NSW provide children with a free nutritious breakfast – it could be a cheese sandwich or a piece of toast with Vegemite, a piece of fruit and a drink – to give them the energy they need to face the day.
Currently in the Dubbo area, 13 schools – six primary and seven secondary or community centre-based – are involved in the program. That’s approximately 5000 students benefitting from a meal to start their day.
Parents and teachers report that without a healthy breakfast, children can have physical, emotional and behavioural drawbacks. Nutrition Australia indicates that the benefits of a healthy breakfast “improves energy levels; improves metabolism; provides beneficial nutrients; stabilises blood sugar levels and improves memory and concentration”.
Since the launch of the breakfast program, principals said it “immediately drove improvements in behaviour in the classroom, improved attendance and changed attitudes in the school community”, according to Foodbank.
“If we want all our children to thrive and succeed, we can’t let their hunger go unheard,” Ms Casey said.
But it’s not just the children who are going without. Parents in these households will often skip meals to allow their children to eat and most (74 per cent) surveyed felt embarrassed or ashamed because they struggle to provide food for their children.
The reasons for food insecurity are varied, but the main factors include unexpected expenses or large bills, rental or mortgage payment priority or low income.
More info: If your school is interested in the School Breakfast program or you wish to donate, visit www.foodbanknsw.org.au.
For privacy reasons, Foodbank asked that specific schools not be identified in this story.
Eating enough food is crucial for a child’s healthy growth and development. And healthy food is essential to help their concentration and energy. A good breakfast every day is the best way to achieve this and help them establish good habits for life.
Here are some simple, easy and relatively affordable options to get their day started the right way:
Toast and Vegemite, peanut butter or avocado.
Fresh fruit and natural yoghurt
Porridge with fresh fruit
Boiled eggs on wholegrain toast
Cooked mushrooms or tomatoes on wholegrain toast
A muffin with banana
A fruit smoothie
Untoasted muesli with milk