In times of crisis and uncertainty, we can feel helpless. But no matter what’s going on in the world, doing something good for others can help you channel your own stresses, worries and frustrations into positive, constructive change.
Donating money to a food bank is a great place to start, because the food bank can stretch your dollar farther than you can. For every dollar the food bank receives, it can get about three dollars in food items (using their appropriate discounts). But if you prefer to donate goods, try giving the food bank thoughtful, nutrient-dense items. People who don’t have access to nutritious food are at an increased risk for deficiencies and diseases, and children who aren’t able to nourish their bodies with the proper nutrients can have impaired development, both mentally and physically.
So what should you give? 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 healthy food bank donations:
- Canned chicken packed in water. Canned chicken is nonperishable and can be added to nearly every main dish recipe to boost the lean protein content.
- Canned fish packed in water. In addition to protein, canned fish like tuna and salmon are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These nutritious, anti-inflammatory fats can also boost brain health and development.
- 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.
- Nuts, seeds and their butters. These tend to be on the pricier side, so they’re always a welcome donation. Plus, they boast plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals, and can be easily slathered on bread for a quick, satisfying treat.
- Canned veggies with low or no sodium. A mix of veggies containing a range of disease-fighting antioxidants will help stave off colds and flu. The salt in these products can be high though, so check the label.
- 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, which contains loads of added sugar.
- Whole-grain cereals, rice and pasta. Whole-grain pasta, cereal and brown rice (which contains more nutrients than white rice) 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.
- 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.
- 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, which pack additional protein. Better yet, choose a hearty vegetarian or canned turkey chili.
- 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.
Try making it a habit of picking up a few extra items on your 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.
You can read more nutrition advice and recipes in our EatWell sections.
To find a doctor or a registered dietitian at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is the director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Learn more about Bethany.