This morning is the first day of school for The Peanut. We packed up her backpack full of new school supplies last night, and put together a tasty lunch while she was eating her breakfast this morning.

She was scrubbed, brushed and bright eyed as we walked out the door, happy to be going back to school to see her friends and her new teacher.

But I couldn’t help thinking about all those kids in America for whom the start of school means something else entirely: two meals every weekday.

How tough would it be to be that young and already have learned that lesson?

The number of children eating free breakfast and lunch at school is expected to rise substantially this year, to a 41-year high. And that hunger is not something that just sticks around until that child’s next meal. Malnutrition can impact that child detrimentally for a lifetime, from stunted growth to developmental delays and beyond .

Star News in Wilmington, NC, has been doing a fantastic series on hunger and children in their region. And the reporting is heartbreaking:

…often the youngest children fall through the cracks – subject to their parents’ ability –or inability– to feed the family nutritious foods. Many food support programs exist for children once they reach school age that are not consistently available to very young children….

…the health effects on young children from not eating regular nutritious meals can range from diabetes, constipation and obesity to learning disabilities. Malnutrition in young children also has a societal cost – more hospital stays, lost work for the parents and an increased stress on the social services sector.

These children did not ask to be born into poverty. Yet their start in life is several steps behind other children nonetheless.

All over the country, organizations and local governments have worked to stem that problem through summer bridge programs for these kids so that they wouldn’t go to sleep with a gnawing belly every night of the summer. But we need to do more. All of us.

A window is opening to not just tackle poverty issues for at risk kids, but also nutrition for these and all of our children. As early as October, the Child Nutrition Bill could begin to wind its way through Congress. Let’s talk about ways we can get out in front of that bill to make certain that nutritious food is served to children who so desperately need it.

Prior articles in this child poverty series:  making child poverty a priority;  mortgaging the nation’s future Part I and Part II; better childhood nutrition Part I and Part IIgive kids a head start; bringing poverty to the table Part I and Part IItrue compassion, Will children be casualties of the stimulus compromise? and Summertime: The Living Ain’t Easy For Children In Poverty.

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com