Donate Healthier Items to Food Pantries This Holiday Season

By , SparkPeople Blogger
During the holiday season many schools, religious groups, and businesses conduct food drives for local food pantries. In the rush to grab something to contribute, nutrition or food safety isn't always high on the list of considerations. While the generous efforts of donating are appreciated, sometimes the food from pantry shelves is past the expiration date, which causes them to have to be tossed out instead of being able to benefit those that need it. Many of the typical non-perishable choices picked up at grocery stores tend to be high in sodium, sugar, or calories, which do not provide maximum nutrition for those that really need to make every bite count.
This winter, more people than ever are expected to visit a local food bank or seek out a pantry or assistance for utilities, housing and medical care than ever before. Use this list of suggestions to makeover your food pantry donations this holiday season and all winter long. Your healthier donations will go a long way to help those who receive them be as healthy as possible.

  • Tuna packed in water

  • Peanut butter

  • Dried beans such as pinto or black

  • Powdered milk fortified with vitamin D or boxed shelf stable milk or soy milk

  • If you know of a local pantry that can accept frozen foods, call ahead to see if they can store turkey, chicken, fluid milk, or liquid egg whites.  

  • Readymade sugar free pudding
  • Fiber rich cereals such raisin bran or old fashion oats

  • Whole wheat pasta

  • Brown rice

  • Low sodium varieties of canned pasta

  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Canned fruit in juice or water instead of heavy syrup

  • No sugar added applesauce (in plastic bottles)

  • 100% fruit or vegetable juice

  • Raisins or other dried fruits

  • Low sodium canned vegetables or soups

  • Boxed powdered or flaked potatoes (without additives)

  • Low sodium canned tomato products and spaghetti sauces

  • Low sugar spreadable fruit instead of jelly
Other Items
  • Spices such as olive or canola oil, basil, cinnamon, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, or oregano

  • Consider purchasing items in bulk from a warehouse club to get the most for your money.

  • Local supermarket gift cards
Taking a few minutes to take the Feeding America Hunger Quiz will reveal that one in six Americans do not have access to enough food to sustain a healthy life. Thirty-six percent of the individuals served by the Feeding America network have at least one working adult in the family. The USDA reports that more than 17 million children are living in food-insecure households. Inadequate nutrition for families not only affects children's physical growth but also their cognitive and behavioral development as well and everyone in the home is more susceptible to experiencing irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating on tasks. If your family is blessed with the ability to live without the worry of food insecurity, consider helping others through food donation receive the same blessing. 
Have you donated to a local food pantry or food bank in the past? Will you be willing to make regular donations throughout 2012? Is there more we can do to help?

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Containers that don't need a can opener can also be helpful. Report
When my husband was alive (we were in the food business) we contributed on a continual basis. However, reading this list, I was surprised at the request for spices - it is so obvious but I never thought of it (duh! It will make those beans taste so much better).
A local store recently had a big bin of 50 cent spices - onion powder, chili powder, cinnamon and the like - next time I see such a bin I will grab handfuls for the local food bank. Report
I have worked at the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank for over 11 years...and find that this time of year, many people are very generous with their time, cash, and food. As a matter of fact, during the last 2 months of the year, the number of people who want to host Food Drives go up exponentially. I'd like to take this time to remind my Spark Friends, not to forget those in need who suffer 12 months out of the year. It would be great if the "season of giving" could miraculously segue into a "daily way of sharing and caring".
I have made donations for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Also sponsored two familes. Will continue to sponsor families and make donations. Report
Great idea, thanks for the suggestions. Report
I worked our annual winter food drive earlier this month. It was such a blessing to see the community come together for this event and to see the high school kids pitch in and help. Cash is one of the things that most food banks need. They are able to double or triple the food that they can buy, due to contracts and agreements, and they are able to get what is needed locally. They also can use personal care products, frozen foods (that are still frozen) and fresh produce. Report
I did donate to the food bank this year and it was a healthy choice.
We got some food from one of those pantries, none of it healthy and about half of it expired. They did give us some squash but it was moldy, couldn't even be trimmed up to eat. Report
Although I am on a fixed/diminishing income myself, I donate regularly to a local food bank through my church. One of my sisters (retired and on a very LOW fixed income) often has to turn to her local food bank for necessities that she can no longer afford. A can of this or a box of that added to the bin at church each Sunday soon adds up to a nice meal for those in need.

I am all for the healthy stuff being brought in, but wonder if those using the food bank might not bypass the (more expensive) whole wheat pasta for the regular kind and the brown rice for the white.

And pet food? I understand that if you had a pet when you lost your income you still have to feed your pet, but I was surprised to hear that food banks are including pet food. My hubby and I would dearly love to get another kitty (or two!) but know we cannot afford the food and other expenses, and so have delayed doing so for several years now. Report
Im a Serior Citizen myself and at times Ineed the help of Food Banks etc. I like to Thank all of you who donate to Food Banks and all the otherthings you do to help people in need. Thank You for all the donated hours too. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Report
my daughter needs the use of the food bank.. just a note.. not many kids will eat beets or asparagus.. she said she would die for a can of green beans or corn.. and toilet paper is a must.. Report
Thanks for the reminder that nutritional value counts!

I try to pick up something healthy - and maybe a bit unexpected - every few shopping trips so that there's always something available to donate. We keep all of these items in one spot in the pantry so that we can pull together a donation of nourishing items quickly.

I include some treats for pets, too, from time to time.
Remember - nothing in glass and nothing expired or soon to expire. I volunteered at our local food bank recently and spent my time sorting donations.
I know our food bank always appreciated cash. They are able to buy to foods then that are really needed at discounted prices. Report
Thank you for writing this, Tanya. Very useful information and a gentle reminder to help those who are less fortunate than us. Report
I donate to my local food bank and as the PP noted, they too are asking for things like shampoo, soap, toilet paper, pet food and even tea. Little things we don't think about that can help make a needy person's day a little better. Report
Some of the items you seldom see at a food bank that people do need are paper goods, pet food, personal care items, and cleaning supplies. People still need these items even when they are poor. Report
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