Children are being sent to school with cold chips or a packet of biscuits in their lunchbox as families face a squeeze on their budgets, a new survey claims.
More than two thirds of adults working with children (68.1%) say that in the last two years, they have seen an increase in the proportion of families who are struggling to feed their youngsters.
And of those working in schools, almost half (47.5%) say they have seen a change in the food in children's lunchboxes as household budgets get tighter.
One person told the Children's Food Trust, who conducted the survey, that "some children come in with just a packet of biscuits", while another said they had seen "poorer quality sandwich fillings, sometimes just margarine".
A third said there were "fewer processed items - more leftovers or store cupboard items. In some ways it is healthier but some families only give cold cooked rice or cold chips with fishfingers or similar." There were also references to "more junk food", sweets and chocolate appearing in lunchboxes and less fruit.
The poll, by the Children's Food Trust, asked more than 250 adults, including youth workers, childminders, teachers, doctors and hospital staff for their views on how children's diets have changed. It found that more than four fifths (84.6%) say that in the course of their work, they have seen children who they think are not getting enough to eat. Of those who said this, 84.8% said that up to 30% of the children they worked with were not getting enough to eat.
There were also concerns about children's health. Three-quarters (76.5%) of those who said that they worked with children who did get not enough food said that they thought the health of these youngsters was suffering. The poll also found that in the last two years, two thirds (66.3%) of those questioned said they had given a child food because they were worried they were not getting enough to eat.
The Trust's chief executive-designate, Linda Cregan, said: "The message here is that too many people who work with children are having to go above and beyond the call of duty to try to protect children from the effects of hunger and poor diet. Of course it's a parent's responsibility to make sure their child eats well. But as this and other surveys have shown, the reality is that this can be an enormous struggle.
"Whether we like it or not, people working in these jobs are at the frontline of helping parents on this, so they need the right support. As local authorities develop their public health plans, ringfencing funding to support children's nutrition would be a good starting point.
"This could be used in all sorts of ways - training on cooking skills for local organisations working with families, subsidising good school food, breakfast clubs in schools or grub clubs for the holidays - but making that explicit commitment is vital."