90,000 children in Northern Ireland families that can't afford healthy diet
Some 90,000 children in Northern Ireland live in cash-poor homes which can barely afford to eat healthily, it can be revealed.
New research by an independent think tank also found that households earning less than £15,860 would need to spend 37% of that income on food to comply with the Government's recommendations.
That shocking figure, which applies to a fifth of all homes here, is four times what the richest 20% of local households would have to spend to meet Public Health England's 'Eatwell Guide'.
Widening inequality is also leading to more childhood obesity in deprived areas of Northern Ireland, with almost a quarter (23%) of primary one schoolchildren being obese or overweight, increasing to 32% in year eight.
The Food Foundation's affordability analysis reveals half of all UK households (14.4m) currently don't spend enough to meet the cost of the Government's recommended Eatwell Guide.
The organisation claims the availability of free school meals during term time will be a relief for parents who struggled to feed their sons and daughters over the nine-week summer break.
The research - Affordability of the Eatwell Guide - is being made public as the Children's Future Food Inquiry gathers evidence from those who have witnessed or experienced children's food insecurity in the UK.
With around 3.7m UK children in households unlikely to be able to afford a healthy diet, coupled with record levels of child obesity, the parliamentary inquiry is calling for a national measurement for food insecurity.
Next year, it will present recommendations to policy makers in all regions of the UK including specific recommendations for Northern Ireland for understanding and tackling children's food insecurity.
Pauline Leeson, chief executive of Children in Northern Ireland, which is part of the inquiry, said "the absence of free school meals is even more important during holiday periods as family budgets are even more stretched".
"School holidays are an expensive time for families where there is financial strain on increased food budgets, childcare costs and paying for activities to keep children and young people entertained," she said.
"Many parents are faced with the difficult choice of how to feed their whole family, with many parents going without in order to feed their children.
"This analysis by the Food Foundation clearly highlights the need for Westminster and the devolved regions to listen to children, young people and their families to put in place strategies that will allow them to eat a healthy balanced diet no matter what time of year it is."
The Eatwell Guide shows the proportions of different foods needed to get the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein, while also getting the fibre, vitamins and minerals needed for good health.
As part of a healthy diet people are advised to eat at least two portions of fish a week and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
MP Sharon Hodgson, chair of the Children's Future Food Inquiry Committee, said she is concerned that so many UK children and families are at risk of going hungry, or going without a healthy meal each day.
"I hope the Government will look into this issue as a matter of urgency, in order to make eating a healthy diet more affordable," she said.