(NC) Food insecurity is harmful to children, leading to absenteeism, trouble concentrating and lower grades and outcomes.

It’s hard to believe there are children in our wealthy country who go hungry. But according to Statistics Canada, food insecurity affects 1.15 million — or one in six — Canadian children under age 18.

Fortunately, there are programs that help feed hungry kids right here at home, like those from Canadian Feed The Children. The organization has launched a new campaign to provide 500,000 meals to children who need it most, especially at school. Here are just some of the ways school meals help kids learn:

Healthier kids: Especially for the youngest children, adequate nutrition provided in early childhood care and development centres has a huge impact on fostering healthy child development.

Help for the whole family: For families struggling to make ends meet, school meals can help out all family members, including moms, dads and siblings. They stretch food budgets so that pre-school children and parents all get more food. Plus, they are often combined with parental supports like nutrition training, career development and other opportunities to increase household income and outcomes.

Kids make better food choices: Well-designed school nutrition programs ensure that kids eat a diverse, balanced diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables – which may be expensive, scarce or uncommon in local diets – are important for short- and long-term disease prevention.

Kids learn better: School meals offer an incentive for children to show up and stay in school. Kids with full tummies can concentrate better, have more energy, their memory and problem-solving skills are improved, and they show less disruptive behaviour. Long-term academic outcomes are also noted: lower dropout rates, higher graduation, better performance on standardized tests, and more.

Find more information at feedchildren.ca.