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Feeding Your Family on a Tight Budget

Medically reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD and Estherline Thoby, DO

Why Can it Be Hard to Feed a Family?

Everyone needs enough nutritious food to live a healthy life. But many people can't get it all the time. This can happen for different reasons, like:

  • not having enough money to buy food
  • being unemployed
  • not having an easy way to get to a store to buy food

The community where a person lives also plays a role. Some people have to travel long distances or have few supermarkets or grocery stores nearby. These areas are sometimes called "food deserts." Convenience stores are common in food deserts. They usually have higher food prices and carry a smaller variety of fruits and vegetables.

Anyone can have trouble getting enough healthy food. It can happen to adults and kids of any age.

Why Is a Healthy Diet Important?

Communities with limited affordable and healthy foods tend to have easier access to fast food restaurants. Not having easy access to fruits, vegetables, and important vitamins found in healthy foods can lead to health conditions like low iron levels and obesity.

Low iron levels and a diet with lots of sugar can cause behavior problems, such as trouble paying attention, poor memory, and hyperactivity. Children also can have mood changes, increasing their risk for anxiety and depression during the teen years.

A healthy diet can help prevent health conditions like asthma and emotional stress. Kids who eat well also tend to be more active. This can help them keep a healthy weight and avoid health problems linked to obesity.

Where Can Families Find Food Resources?

Children and families may qualify for free and confidential services that can help them find healthy foods. These include:

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

WIC provides money for food such as formula, infant cereal, fruits, and vegetables to low-income pregnant women and new moms, and to infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk. Find more information online at:

Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP helps families with their food budget so they can buy healthy food. Families can buy a variety of foods like fruits and vegetables, meats, and dairy products. You must apply in the state where you live and meet income rules. Find more information online at:

School Breakfast Program

This federal program in public and nonprofit private schools provides free or low-cost breakfast to children based on household income and family size. Find more information online at:

National School Lunch Program

This program provides free and low-cost meals to kids in public and nonprofit private schools based on household income. Find more information online at:

Summer Food Service Program

This program makes sure kids get healthy food when school is out. It provides free meals during the summer to kids and teens 18 years old and younger. Find more information online at:

National Hunger Hotline

The USDA's National Hunger Hotline connects families with emergency food sources in the community, such as food banks, government assistance programs, and other social services. Call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m.–10 p.m. EST. Find more information online at:

Medically reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD and Estherline Thoby, DO
Date reviewed: May 2020