By Barbara Broggelwirth, RDN, CDN
Over the past two years, tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs or saw their incomes dramatically reduced, which has led to unprecedented levels of food insecurity in the United States.1 Food insecurity is defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. According to Feedingamerican.org, more than 35 million people in the United States experienced hunger in 2019.2 Lack of access to nutritious foods can lead to nutrition deficiencies that can impair health and immunity, lower productivity and hinder development and learning.
If a limited budget makes it difficult to have consistent access to enough food, there is help.
The USDA offers nutrition assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.) for eligible families. Nutrient dense foods such as produce, meat, poultry, dairy, bread and cereal are items that are covered by the program. Some stores also provide special discounts if you purchase fruits and vegetables with your SNAP card. They also offer online grocery lists, recipes, and cost estimates for dozens of recipes. This is a great resource for anyone looking to budget their groceries.3
Free breakfast and lunch are offered through school lunch programs to individuals who qualify. Many districts offer lean meat, low-fat dairy, whole grains and fruits and vegetables. There are also after-school meal programs for children whose parents work shifts during the evening meal. And, when school isn’t in session, the Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to fill the void.3
WIC is a special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children. This program provides nutrition services for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women. It also serves infants and children up to age 5 who are at risk of poor nutrition.3
Eligible WIC recipients receive:
- Foods to help meet the nutrition needs of yourself and your young children. For example, iron-fortified cereal, whole-wheat bread, eggs, milk, cheese, beans, peanut butter, canned fish, fruits and vegetables and vitamin C-rich fruit juice.
- Foods for young children such as baby food, iron-fortified infant cereals and iron-fortified infant formulas.
- Referrals to healthcare providers.
- Education about nutrition education and breastfeeding.
Other resources include local food banks and farmers markets. Some food banks distribute prepared boxes with a variety of foods while others may allow you to walk through a warehouse and fix a box on your own. These are good resources for pantry staples like rice, pasta and canned goods. Farmers markets provide locally grown produce which can be purchased with SNAP dollars. In New York State, for every $2 of SNAP benefits customers spend at participating farmers markets, customers get $2 of free Double Up Food Bucks to spend on any New York-grown fruits and vegetables, up to $20 per market visit per day. At loyalty card locations, SNAP benefits are matched $1 for $1.3
Check out the links below for additional information about these programs.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
- Feeding American (nationwide network of food banks)
- National Farmers Market Directory
- WIC: Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
- National School Breakfast Program
- National School Lunch Program
- After School Meal Program
- Summer Food Service Program
- Parolin Z, Wimer C. Forecasting estimates of poverty during the COVID-19 crisis. Poverty and Social Policy Brief. New York, NY: Center on Poverty and Social Policy at the Columbia School of Social Work; 2020;4(6). Google Scholar
- Find Your Local Food Bank. Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank. Accessed August 11, 2021.
- Gordon CB. Feed Your Family Healthfully on a Low Income Budget. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/food/planning-and-prep/eat-right-on-a-budget/feed-your-family-healthfully-on-a-low-income-budget. Accessed August 11, 2021.
Barbara Broggelwirth, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.