Identifying hunger

Tagged by

  • Deprivation
  • Educational attainment
  • Food poverty
  • Nutrition
School child concentrating while painting.

Our aim at Magic Breakfast is very simple: that no child is too hungry to learn. A key part of making this happen is ensuring breakfast is reaching children who really do need it. But identifying hunger in school age children can be surprisingly difficult. Many lovely schools, who really know their children, are shocked to discover hungry children they simply weren’t aware of.Hunger doesn’t necessarily mean the child has had nothing at all to eat. A bag of crisps or a biscuit won’t keep a child full for very long.

There’s a common belief that, in a supportive and caring school, children will tell staff they’re hungry. Our experience is that this isn’t always the case.


The child doesn’t identify their problem as hunger. The child’s body may have become accustomed to not having food in the mornings and they have lost touch with the feeling of hunger. The child may not recognise that their tiredness, lack of energy, lack of concentration, stomach ache or headache are due to being hungry.

The child doesn’t want to draw attention to the issue. If the child comes from a chaotic or dysfunctional family, they may not want to tell staff they’re hungry in case this draws negative attention to their family. Many children are aware that their family is not giving them everything they need but don’t want to staff to be aware of this.

A child may be too embarrassed to ask in front of their peer group. In the school’s busy learning morning, the child may feel there isn’t a suitable private moment to say something.

 The child doesn’t feel able to say something. The child might:

• be shy, introverted or lack confidence

• worry that they will be seen as wasting time or being a nuisance

• be new to the school – mobility is often a factor.

Positive strategies

Here are some of the effective strategies used in schools to successfully identify and bring in additional hungry children:

Have a clear, whole school ‘no hunger’ policy. Launch an initiative so the whole school is committed to identifying potentially hungry children and including them in breakfast. This should also make sure the school and its staff are aware of their role and responsibilities in ensuring there is no hungry child in school.

Make sure staff know the potential signs and symptoms – and they follow them up. There is no simple way to identify hunger, but there are signs and symptoms that should always be gently investigated. These include:

• irritability/anger

• poor concentration

• tummy ache

• headache

• lethargy

The follow up might be a quiet word with the child, and possibly with the parent also, and referring to a designated breakfast lead.

Have a named person responsible for identifying and targeting children for breakfast attendance. This may be the pastoral lead or another member of staff with good knowledge of the background of families. They should have responsibility for identifying and following up potentially vulnerable children, and liaising with teaching, office and breakfast club staff.

Use breakfast as an intervention. Breakfast attendance can be made a standard item discussed at meetings about the care of vulnerable children, persistent absentees, new starters and children not making expected progress. It can also be included in individual plans for children.

Revisit annually in staff meetings. An annual hunger review with staff will remind them of the possible signs and symptoms, and encourage them to think about their current class, and who might benefit from having breakfast at school.

A session where staff are asked to look at a class list and think about who is attending breakfast, and who else should be targeted for attendance, can take just 10-15 minutes per year! This could either be part of an INSET day, or a one off during a staff meeting.

Involve all members of staff.

  • Kitchen staff can often tell you which children regularly go back for seconds at lunch or seem unusually desperate for food.
  • Office staff could help identify which late arriving children have or haven’t had breakfast, as a standard question when signing in, being mindful that a late child probably won’t admit to not having had breakfast in front of their parent.

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This page was last updated on

15 December 2023

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