Food Bank Donations: What To Give

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Food drives and the holidays go hand-in-hand. And while any food bank donation is a nice way to spread holiday cheer, the most prized contribution is cash—and not because of its frivolous spending potential. The reality is, the food bank can stretch your dollar farther than you can. So for every dollar the food bank receives, it can get about three dollars in food items (using their appropriate discounts). Whether you’re participating in a program through your church or your child’s school, or gathering nonperishables to drop off at a soup kitchen, consider donating money first.

Prefer to donate goods instead? Plan to deliver the same whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods you serve your own family. Rather than donating tasty but unhealthy treats such as processed cakes, cookies and snacks, bring foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and needed nutrients.

Here’s my top 10 list for food bank donations that make sense:

  1. Canned chicken (packed in water). Canned chicken is nonperishable and can be added to nearly every main dish recipe to boost the protein content.
  2. Canned fish (packed in water). In addition to protein, canned fish like tuna and salmon are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Canned beans. Beans are a nutrient-rich, high-protein staple that can round out nearly any meal. In fact, all beans, including chickpeas, kidney, black and pinto, are loaded with fiber and B vitamins.
  4. Nuts, seeds and their butters. Mixed nuts, seeds and their butters tend to be on the pricier side, so they’re always a welcome donation. Plus, they boast protein, vitamins and minerals.
  5. Canned veggies (with low or no sodium). A mix of veggies contain a range of disease-fighting antioxidants to help stave off colds and flu. The salt in these products can be high though, so check the label.
  6. Canned fruits (packed in their own juice). High in vitamin C and other cold-busting nutrients, canned fruits are a natural pick, particularly for kids. Just make sure they’re packed in water or fruit juice rather than heavy syrup.
  7. Whole-grain cereals, rice and pasta. Whole-grain pasta, cereal and brown rice (instead of white) are rich in fiber and B vitamins. They also act as a great base for quick and easy meals. High-protein grains such as quinoa are an even better pick.
  8. Shelf-stable milk and milk substitutes. Milk is packed with protein, calcium and other essential nutrients, but it can be tough for food banks to stock fresh milk. Shelf-stable and powdered milks that people can reconstitute are often a safer bet.
  9. Low-sodium soups. Soups deliver a range of nutrients in one hearty meal. Opt for broth-based varieties with a lot of vegetables or bean soups like lentil that pack additional protein. Better yet, choose a hearty vegetarian or canned turkey chili.
  10. Cooking staples. Olive oil, nonstick spray, pasta sauce, herbs and spices, chicken or beef stock, whole-wheat flour and rolled oats are under-gifted items every food bank needs to stock their kitchens and create wholesome meals. Olive oil, herbs and spices in particular are great picks since they’re not commonly donated.

Instead of digging out your own discards to drop off, try to make it a habit of picking up a few extra items on your own shopping runs to donate. Or call a local food pantry or church to find out what they really need. Sometimes, they have the refrigeration and storage space for fresh foods, including milk, fruits and vegetables. But no matter what you donate, rest assured your generosity is appreciated. The added bonus: Giving to those in need, especially nutrient-rich food gifts, nourishes your own spirit.


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Categories: EatWell