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Identifying Hungry Children

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 6/13/2018

If a child does not get enough food outside of school he/she is considered “food insecure.” The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as households that are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet basic needs of all their members because of insufficient money or other resources.
How do you identify a hungry child?
A chronically hungry child will be anxious for a meal to be served. Perhaps they rush the cafeteria line or they are showing up early for breakfast. During the meal, they will eat all of the food and will not carelessly throw portions of it away. They will also linger around for second helpings or even ask for more.
How should you respond to a child who says he is hungry?
Generally speaking, growing children have an appetite and will say they are hungry at periods throughout the day. However, in the case of a chronically hungry child, certain questions can be asked to assess need. In the morning, a child may say they are hungry. Ask them if they ate breakfast. If they say they skipped breakfast, find out why. If they did eat breakfast, ask what they ate and if it was enough to make them full. You may also ask if they ate dinner the previous night. Once again, ask what they had for dinner and if it was enough to fill them up.
A child who says there is never enough food in the house or that all they had for dinner were some potato chips is a child who is considered chronically hungry. Even if a child worries that there will not be enough food at home, this is a cause for concern.
How can you tell if a child is chronically hungry?
Physical Appearance: Certain physical features are indicators of vitamin and/or food deficiencies.
  • Extreme thinness is a sign of lack of protein and calories.
  • Some obesity is caused from poor nutrition.
  • Chronically dry, cracked lips can be a sign of dehydration.
  • Chronically dry, itchy eyes can be a sign of a vitamin A deficiency.
School Performance/Behavior: Sometimes the behavior of a child indicates problems at home, with food insufficiency being one of the problems. Look for:
  • Excessive absences
  • Hyperactive, aggressive, irritable, anxious, withdrawn, distressed, passive/aggressive—any display of these behaviors that leads to disciplinary action
  • Repetition of a grade
  • Difficulty forming friendships, getting along with others
  • Sickness—sore throat, common cold, stomach ache, ear infection, fatigue
  • Short attention span, inability to concentrate
Home Environment: Sometimes children will be open about what is going on at home. For example, a child may say that her dad has lost a job and that her mother doesn’t work. By listening to your students and by being in contact with parents, the needs of the family can be assessed.
Thanks to Snack Pak 4 Kids for providing the information for this post.

For more information on hunger in the classroom, check out the Summer 2018 ATPE News feature.

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