Reducing Childhood Food Insecurity in the United States

By Team Ahimsa



Time to Read: 6 min

By Matthew Feltrop

What is (and particularly what isn’t) on children’s plates in the United States is prime evidence of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Right before the current health crisis hit, childhood food insecurity affected a staggering 15 million children. Without the consistency of school meals, as well as many households losing income, that number has grown to about 18 million kids facing childhood food insecurity.

Childhood Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes

As school leaders consider the best way to open their doors to students, they must also place a renewed emphasis on the quality of food served in their cafeterias to address deep inequities that have led to that ballooning statistic.

Particularly for kids, food insecurity has been found to have profound and long-term effects. These include negative impacts on school attendance, behavior, academic performance, and overall health including obesity and related diseases.

While food insecurity affects children of every race and in every zip code in the United States, communities of color have been disproportionately impacted.

The compounded crises of food insecurity, low access to local accessible healthy foods, and years of unequal access to economic opportunities that build financial security are comorbidities that have drastically increased food insecurity for children of color.

In fact, in the latest USDA survey, the rates of childhood food insecurity for children with Black or Latinx parents are triple that of families with white parents. This inequity is simply unacceptable.

Program to Counteract Child Food Insecurity

Widespread childhood nutrition programs have proven essential to increasing both food security and health outcomes for children. These programs, like the National School Lunch program, significantly reduce childhood food insecurity.

However, not all meal programs are created equally. At The Patachou Foundation, an Indianapolis-based non-profit fighting food insecurity, our focus has always been on providing the best quality meal to students. And post-pandemic, we're increasing that focus by creating long-overdue systems that place parent and student feedback at the center of our meal creation and programming.

Lessons learned from past emergencies highlight the importance of capitalizing on this moment of reset post-pandemic. For example, when rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, 20 Louisiana schools forced food vendors to commit to high-quality ingredients.

Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis presents the same opportunity to focus on equity, quality, and access in school and childhood hunger relief.

Particularly as children return to the classroom, we can and should look to school administrators and policy makers to maximize childhood nutrition programs to address these systemic challenges and racial inequities.

Ahimsa’s Role in Combatting Childhood Food Insecurity

In the fight against childhood food insecurity, Ahimsa is committed to offering eco-friendly, non-toxic stainless steel dinnerware for kids at title one schools. Ahimsa donates a portion of every sale towards reusable steel cafeteria trays and utensils to the students who consume most of their meals at school. Our mission dovetails with efforts to ensure every child enjoys nutritious meals, emphasizing the importance of safe, sustainable eating practices. Ahimsa's stainless steel dinnerware supports healthy eating habits and champions environmental stewardship. This commitment to health and sustainability enriches the collective endeavor to secure a nourished, conscious future for all children, making Ahimsa a vital ally in the battle against food insecurity.

About the Author

Matthew Feltrop

Matthew Feltrop of the Patachou Foundation

Matthew Feltrop is the Executive Director of The Patachou Foundation. He leads their disruptive nonprofit model to make a direct impact on childhood food insecurity and low food access in Indianapolis while addressing the underlying systemic causes of hunger. Feltrop believes real food belongs in all zip codes and it is unacceptable that Indianapolis is still facing a debilitating hunger problem. 

The Patachou Foundation serves wholesome meals to children impacted by hunger while increasing their connection to and excitement about real food. The Patachou Foundation serves over 1,500 scratch-made meals each week and leverages the power of and value of food to cultivate an equitable future for youth in Indianapolis.


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A Physician’s Journey Through Motherhood and a Pandemic

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

About Ahimsa Founder Dr. Manasa Mantravadi

Dr. Manasa Mantravadi is a board-certified pediatrician whose dedication to children’s health drove her to launch Ahimsa, the world's first colorful stainless steel dishes for kids. She was motivated by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ findings on harmful chemicals in plastic affecting children's well-being. Ahimsa has gained widespread recognition and been featured in media outlets such as Parents Magazine, the Today Show, The Oprah Magazine, and more.

Dr. Mantravadi received the esteemed “Physician Mentor of the Year” award at Indiana University School of Medicine in 2019. She was also named a Forbes Next 1000 Entrepreneur in 2021, with her inspiring story showcased on Good Morning America. She serves on the Council for Environmental Health and Climate Change and the Council for School Health at The American Academy of Pediatrics. She represents Ahimsa as a U.S. industry stakeholder on the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for the Global Plastics Treaty, led by the United Nations Environment Program. Dr. Mantravadi leads Ahimsa's social impact program, The Conscious Cafeteria Project, to reduce carbon emissions and safeguard student health as part of a national pilot of the Clinton Global Initiative.

She is dedicated to educating and empowering people to make healthier, more environmentally friendly choices at mealtime. Her mission remains to advocate for the health of all children and the one planet we will leave behind for them through real policy change within our food system.

Mealtime Essentials from Ahimsa

Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I use stainless steel instead of plastic? Is stainless steel better for health?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report in July 2018 suggesting ways that families can limit exposure to certain chemicals at mealtime, including “the use of alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.” The report explained that “…some additives are put directly in foods, while “indirect” additives may include chemicals from plastic, glues, dyes, paper, cardboard”. Further, “Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing.” While stainless steel items meet the recommendation to avoid plastic products in children, Ahimsa® products have the obvious advantage of not breaking like glass.

Is stainless steel better for the environment than plastic?

According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel can be recycled over and over and over again without losing its integrity and requires less energy to recycle than to make anew. Most plastic unfortunately ends up in landfills and it is estimated to take 700 years to decompose. Our special coloring process that allows Ahimsa® products to be fully metal is environmentally friendly, so it does not produce toxic run-off into the ecosystem.

Will Ahimsa products break or peel?

No. Our steel is durable, so it won’t break or shatter with everyday use, like glass. And it won’t peel, like other colored stainless steel products you’ve seen. We use a special process that allows the colors to naturally occur in the metal.

Which Ahimsa products are best for my little one(s)?

Our products are meant to last, you can use Ahimsa at ages 1, 8 and 18! We thoughtfully design our products to be safe for little ones and our planet while reducing consumption. Once your child outgrows the Starting Solids Set  and can use regular cups and utensils, the training cup is the perfect size rinse cup in the bathroom, the infant spoon doubles as a tea stirrer and the bowl is great for snacks or as an additional compartment to our modular divided plate. Our plates are great for any age as they encourage choosing a variety of healthy foods at each meal and help visualize portion sizes easily. It’s the lasting beauty of stainless steel - grows with your child and reduces waste.

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