Ways to reduce food insecurity for toddlers and infants in your community

Family Features -- Food insecurity isn't a new problem in the United States, but the economic upheaval created by the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the problem.

During the pandemic, households in the United States with children experienced an increase in food insecurity, despite overall rates of food insecurity staying the same. In 2019, 13.6% of households with children were food insecure, but by 2020, that number increased to 14.8%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In general, child food insecurity rates are higher than overall food insecurity rates, according to the annual Map the Meal Gap study conducted by Feeding America, a nationwide nonprofit network of food banks. According to data from the Children's Defense Fund, this is particularly prevalent among low-income families, single mother households and Black and Hispanic households.

What Food Insecurity Means for Children
Food insecurity and hunger are closely related but not quite the same. People who are food insecure don't have reliable, ongoing access to an adequate supply of affordable, nutritious food. Hunger is a physical condition; food insecurity reflects barriers to obtaining food such as finances, physical location and transportation.

Infants and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies because their nutrient needs are high, especially in relation to the size of their stomachs and appetites. Caregivers in food-insecure households may have little choice but to settle for cheaper, energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods. As a result, food-insecure infants and toddlers are not receiving adequate nutrition even when they may be receiving enough calories to satisfy hunger.

Even if a child isn't physically starving, inadequate nutrition can negatively affect health in numerous ways, including immune system function, low weight, learning and developmental delays, vitamin deficiencies and more.

Ways to Help Promote Better Nutrition
Support good nutrition during infancy and toddlerhood for your own children and others in the community with these practical tips:

* Participate in (or introduce those in need to) aid programs. Government nutrition assistance programs help provide essential nutrition needs during infant and toddler years. One example is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides a variety of resources including food and health care referrals to support mothers and young children at nutritional risk, including pregnant, breastfeeding and post-partum women, as well as infants and children up to age 5.

Another example is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides benefits low-income families can use to purchase nutritious foods. For children and adults who are enrolled in certain care programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) helps ensure they have access to nutritious meals and snacks.

* Make purchases that work extra hard. In addition to producing foods that encourage better nutrition for children, some brands also make contributions that help offset food insecurity. For example, for every box of Plum Organics Super Smoothies purchased, the company donates a pouch to a child in need through its "The Full Effect" program. The smoothie is a specially formulated blend of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains with no added sugars designed to fight malnutrition and help fortify the diets of children who don't have access to regular, healthy meals.

* Act as a role model for healthy choices. Children learn by example, so be sure your little ones see you enjoying nutritious snacks, filling your plate with appropriate portions and preparing well-rounded meals. When kids are exposed to a wide range of healthy options early in life, those food choices become the norm as they grow older.

* Volunteer at a food bank. Getting hands-on by donating your time at a local food bank can help you understand the complexity of food insecurity. Many nutritious selections are perishable, and transporting and storing perishable goods is costly. Volunteers help offset a food bank's operational expenses by contributing labor to sort donated items, prepare deliveries and more.

To find more information about foods that provide infants and toddlers the nutrients they need, visit plumorganics.com.

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