A Recipe to Fight Childhood Hunger

"Feeding a child means giving them a chance at success."

Jason Vincent
Photo: Photo by Huge Galdones

Editor's note: In November, we launched Communal Table, a forum for amplifying first-person voices in the food industry. Our goal is to work long term with leaders to create more humane and sustainable workplaces. We encourage restaurant and bar workers and owners to write in and share their experiences here: kat.kinsman@meredith.com. Have ideas about how to make the industry a safer, better, more sustainable place to work? Please share them, too. We'll edit and post some entries to foodandwine.com.

Jason Vincent is the chef behind Giant Restaurant in Logan Square, Chicago. He's the recipient of numerous culinary accolades, including Food & Wine Best New Chef, COCHON 555's "King of Pork," a James Beard Foundation semifinalist nomination for Best Chef: Great Lakes, and Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand award. His concept for Giant is simple—a special little neighborhood spot with great service and honest, unpretentious and delicious food.

Ask any teacher and they'll tell you: hungry kids can't learn. They know this because a majority of them see students who regularly come to school hungry. Simply put, hunger affects a child's ability to learn. It's a travesty that teachers themselves spend an average of $300 of their own money to buy food for students each year. It doesn't have to be this way. Childhood hunger is a solvable problem.

One solution is school breakfast, which can mean the difference between focus and confusion, success and failure for so many kids. Data shows that children who eat breakfast are more likely to graduate and be successful in the future by earning higher incomes and enjoying higher employment rates, helping to break the cycle of poverty.

In Illinois, where I live, nearly half a million kids struggle with hunger, less than 40 percent of kids eligible for free or reduced-price school meals are eating school breakfast.

That's because the traditional way of serving breakfast—in the building, before the school day starts—is ineffective. Families have a tough time getting kids to school before the bell and kids who do make it on time can feel singled out and ashamed for receiving a needed meal.

There's a better way. And it's why I work with Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign. We know that something as simple as making breakfast part of the regular school day can make the difference between kids eating and going hungry.

When schools serve breakfast once school starts rather than before, more of the kids who need the meal are actually eating it. Teachers agree: a meal at the start of the school day provides the sustenance hungry kids need to thrive. No child should struggle to access food. No teacher should feel helpless knowing the children they're educating are distracted by hunger.

Teachers with students at risk of hunger know feeding hungry children extends far beyond the walls of our nation's schools. Other federal nutrition programs, like summer meals and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), help feed kids at home and when the bell rings for the last day of the school year.

Teachers know summer can be the hungriest time for a kid in need. Summer meals are critical for children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals and can help struggling families who see their grocery bills rise an average of $300 per month over the summer.

SNAP is one of our nation's most powerful tools for ending childhood hunger. It gives families resources to purchase food so that they can shop for and provide food for their families on a budget. 20 million kids in our country rely on nutrition from this program alone. Our nation's nutrition programs have the power to reach kids where they live, learn and play, and that's important because feeding a child means giving them a chance at success.

It's the opportunity I want most for the staff who now work in my kitchens. It's the path teachers want for their students.

When kids in Illinois and across the US have consistent, reliable access to nutritious food, it helps them learn more, stay healthier and grow up stronger. That's a recipe for a stronger, more prosperous nation and state.

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