As Canadian kids head back to school this week, many are doing so on an empty stomach.

Roughly one in five children across Canada doesn’t eat breakfast, and Canada is the only G7 country without a federally funded meal program -- something advocates are working to change.

One such group, Breakfast Club of Canada, was founded 20 years ago. Today it provides more than 200,000 Canadian children with access to a healthy meal before school.

But the organization says it’s unable to keep up with the nationwide demand for in-school meal programs.

"Right now in Canada there are over a million children that need this program, we're only able to fund about 200,000," Lisa Clowery, Breakfast Club of Canada’s director of national corporate relations, told CTV Montreal.

The program is currently in 1,500 schools across Canada, but almost 500 schools are still on a waiting list.

"Eating well stimulates the body and makes us learn better and makes us feel good," dietician Giuliana Di Quinzio told CTV Montreal. "The brain needs nourishment so they can function well in school, and this has been documented in scientific articles. That’s why we always say breakfast is the most important meal of the day."

While some school boards are offering subsidized meal and snack programs, Clowery said the number of those who need access to healthy meals is rising, and private donor funding simply isn’t enough.

"If we had a universal program across the country, we would be able to reach all these children."

According to funding reports listed on its site, Breakfast Club of Canada currently receives 2.12 per cent of its funding from government grants.

With a report from CTV’s Vanessa Lee in Montreal