Published on in Health Tip of the Week
A balanced, nutritious diet is essential to the overall health and development of your child. The reality is that many families have a hard time preparing healthy meals because they can’t get or afford the food they need. Food insecurity is being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious, affordable food.
Katie Lockwood, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) Primary Care, South Philadelphia, offers guidance and resources to parents who think they might be facing food insecurity.
What food insecurity looks like
Food insecurity can look different for different families. “Some children weigh less than they should because they don’t get enough to eat,” says Dr. Lockwood. “Other children may be overweight but are still facing food insecurity because of the availability and low cost of unhealthy foods.” If you are facing food insecurity, there are resources that can help you.
Emergency situations: if you need food now
Philabundance provides the Food Help Line that allows you to pick up an Emergency Food Box at multiple locations throughout Philadelphia (800-319-FOOD; Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)
Long term, daily food assistance
If you’re having trouble providing all the food your children need on a daily basis, there are a few resources available to assist you:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (215-430-0556 or 0555; Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).
- Women Infants and Children (WIC) (800-743-3300; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m.).
Fresh food available to families in need
- FreshForAll provides free fresh produce to any family, year-round when temperatures are above 32 degrees. Bring your own bags to carry your items.
- Use the Philly Food Finder to locate farmer's markets, food pantries, soup kitchens, WIC offices and more.
Lunch assistance for school-aged children
If you need help providing lunch for your child during the school year or throughout the summer, these resources can help:
- National School Lunch Program (If you already have SNAP benefits, you are automatically enrolled)
- Summer Meal Program offered by Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia provides lunch for your kids when they’re home during their break. To find a site, call 1-855-252-MEAL(6325), text "FOOD" to 877877, or visit the Summer Meal Program website.
- Philadelphia City Hall Representatives will direct you to a location where you can get lunch for your child (Dial 311).
Options if you are facing food insecurity
Dr. Lockwood recommends applying for benefits through SNAP. SNAP provides a monthly supplement for purchasing nutritious food. Once you qualify, you’ll receive a debit card to purchase groceries. There are also other benefits you can take advantage of throughout Philadelphia:
- Sign up for Double Dollars to receive $5 coupons to use at the farm stand at the Fair Food Farmstand (Fair Food, Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Streets; Monday-Saturday 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
- The Food Trust provides Philly Food Bucks which allows you to use your SNAP access card to purchase more healthy produce at farm stands throughout the city (215-575-0444).
Pennsylvania’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program has improved the health of families throughout Pennsylvania. Use the PA WIC website to learn more and apply for benefits. Once you have benefits, contact your WIC staff representative to be enrolled in the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), which provides $20 in checks to spend at local Farmers’ Markets.
When to call your primary care provider about food insecurity
If you know your child is not getting enough food and you don’t have access to the food you need, see a physician as soon as possible. “There’s no particular way a food insecure child looks,” says Dr. Lockwood. “At CHOP, we have a variety of ways to screen for nutritional deficiencies. Even if a child is growing well, they might not be getting the right types of foods they need.
We know families have to make up the difference when benefits don’t cover everything. Summertime is especially hard on families who rely on school for breakfast and lunch—now the same amount of food has to be stretched out for two additional daily meals and still last the month.”
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Contributed by: Katie K. Lockwood, MD, MEd