A bowl of rice sits on a table in Lebanon.

A meal of rice, tea, and thyme that a Lebanese family of six ate on a typical day in September 2021 as they experienced ongoing food insecurity.

Lebanon: Children Survive on Potato and Rice as their Food Intake Is Cut in Half

As the government lifts subsidies, more children are at eating less than ever before, Save the Children warns

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Oct. 26, 2021)—Children in Lebanon are skipping many of their meals as parents struggle to afford basic foods that have almost quadrupled in price in a year.

Potato, rice, and lentils are all that is on the table for families who have shared with Save the Children what they ate for seven consecutive days. A Lebanese family of six with children aged between 12 and 16 years said they’d had 11 meals that week, including only two meals in two days. This is down 50 percent from three meals a day a year ago. 

A Syrian family living in north Lebanon reported that their three children did not consume any nutritious food during the week. The family’s six-month-old baby was not being breastfed and only had cow’s milk and cereal. According to Save the Children’s nutrition experts, this is not healthy for a baby of that age and could hold back the infant's development if he does not have more nutritious food. 

Both families have had to ration the little food they have and drastically change their diets to cope with the rising food prices in Lebanon, Save the Children said. 

According to the families’ food diaries, they were surviving on either a lunch of mashed potatoes or a shared plate of bulgur for dinner.

A diet diversity score done by Save the Children showed that neither family scored more than two points for a single meal, except on one occasion. The minimum ‘acceptable’ score for children’s nutritional health is four points.i

Salma,* 16, said her family is now leaving the longest possible break between meals for food to last longer. 

“The food we’re eating now is vastly different from what we used to eat a year ago; we used to have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said Salma.* “Now it’s a late breakfast and an early dinner. There were always eggs, milk, cheese, and labneh (yogurt) in our breakfast. Even though we didn’t eat meat and chicken every day, we had it every week and my mother would sometimes stock [it] in the freezer. Fruits and vegetables were also constant; now we barely have any.” 

Farida,* a mother of three, told Save the Children that almost all food is now out of reach for her family.

“We go days without bread because it’s either expensive or unavailable. Fruits and vegetables are a rarity in our house and we haven’t had meat or chicken in a full year. All dairy products are expensive; there is no milk or cheese in our family. Thyme is our go-to for breakfast. We don’t have electricity so our fridge is barely used.

“My greatest fear is that my children will fall sick because they lack nutritious food. I’m fully aware they’re not getting the nutrients they need, like calcium and protein, and how this is affecting their physical and mental growth.” 

The price of essential foodstuffs has increased by 390 percent in just one year according to the latest data from the Lebanese government.ii Consumers are paying at least three times as much as a year ago for bread, grains, vegetables, or meat.  

Since late 2019, Lebanon has sunk into one of the worst economic crises since the mid-nineteenth century,iii with the highest annual inflation rate in the world.iv The food crisis is compounded by power shortage, where blackouts often last for over 20 hours, making it impossible to store perishable foods such as dairy and meats.  

The Lebanese government has all but lifted subsidies on fuel, medicine, and wheat, a move that Save the Children says will harm the poorest in the country if no genuine alternative is provided.  

Jennifer Moorehead, Save the Children's Country Director in Lebanon, said: 

“Families are telling us they are skipping meals so their children can eat. This is what the vulnerable population in Lebanon is resorting to amid skyrocketing prices. We are talking about families who no longer have access to a bag of bread, let alone a full healthy meal. This is the shocking reality for millions. 

“It is critical for the world to understand that what is happening in Lebanon is unprecedented.  People of all nationalities and backgrounds across the country are in a daily struggle to secure food for their children. We need to act now to save lives and prevent more suffering for children and their families.” 

Save the Children is providing cash and counseling services to vulnerable families like Farida's* so their children can thrive. Through this "cash plus" approach, children are protected from the impact of increasing poverty in Lebanon.

Save the Children is calling on the new Lebanese government to roll out planned cash assistance programs to help the most vulnerable children and their families. It is also urging donors to fund cash assistance programs to protect families from the unprecedented increase in poverty facing the country. 

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we've been advocating for the rights of children worldwide. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming the future we share. Our results, financial statements and charity ratings reaffirm that Save the Children is a charity you can trust. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.


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