If you ever had a chance to chat with me or follow me on social media, you may have noticed that most of my life revolves around food. If I am not cooking, I am researching it or… I am either running or participating in events to promote equitable access to nutritious ingredients for all.
I am a big sucker for charity causes...
... especially when they involve helping children, families and communities to access proper, nutritious food. That’s why whenever a food bank needs my help for events like food drives, they don’t even have to ask. I am there.
Having worked with many different food banks I’ve also learned a lot about the challenges they face every day when it comes to providing services to their clients. Statistics across the country are showing an alarming trend – there are more and more hungry people relying on food banks to meet their basic nutrition needs. In a country that is rated as one of the top 10 best countries to live in?!
What bothers me even more is that most of the food items our food banks receive for distribution have little or no nutritional value at all. Yes, those Kraft dinners and highly processed packaged products may store very well (which it should be a clue for you since even mold wouldn’t touch it) but are also full of chemicals and in my professional opinion, they should not even be allowed for human (or animal) consumption.
(A brilliant explanation of more reasons why you should stop donating those items can be found under this link.)
The fact that a family cannot afford their weekly groceries is hard enough to face for them. Sentencing those in need to substandard food makes it absolutely outrageous.
What does a food bank need instead?
Fresh produce is obviously most nutritious and food banks love donations of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products. One of the teams from our Meadowvale Minor Hockey Association participating in the Meadowvale Hockey Harvest Fundraiser just donated 500lbs of fresh produce to Eden Food For Change which was used to cook nutritious meals for food bank clients! Of course there are numerous limitations to fresh food donations, but they are the most welcomed by those families in need and I encourage you to consider them first.
However, I agree that those non perishable items are much easier to handle and if you'd rather contribute this way, let me show you what you should throw into the donation box instead of Kraft dinner.
My top 5 picks for non-perishable food items for donations to food banks.
This may come as a surprise to you, since it is coming from me, but hear me out. 🙂 I am not a big fan of commercial pasta, let's establish that. It is a processed product made with nutrient-deprived wheat flour, however, there are more and more choices offered as alternatives that are bit better. Pastas made with whole grains like brown rice, buckwheat or spelt provide better nutrition.
Another reason for pasta to be my number 1 choice is that it is usually an easy item for families to cook with, which is especially important for someone who is already overwhelmed by their life circumstances. It is filling and can be combined with a lot of different ingredients. It can be as simple as garlic butter or tomato sauce but you can also incorporate quite a bit of vegetables into the dish without too much fuss from the kids.
Quality sauces like this one, without preservatives and in jars are a fantastic way to add some vegetables into the diet. Mixing them with pasta is definitely an easy way to go, but they can also be used for any meat dishes (hello, meatballs or lasagna), combined with pulses, like lentils, chickpeas, beans or even used as dips.
I am absolutely in LOVE with pulses. Not only they provide tons of nutrition (amazing source of fibre, vitamins and minerals plus they are one of the cleanest and easiest to digest protein sources) but they also store really well and are incredibly versatile in terms of cooking. From snacks like roasted chickpeas and hummus dips to salads and hot stews, curries and soups or even vegetarian burgers, they sure are a fantastic meat alternative providing our bodies with protein. I recommend dried bagged beans, lentils, chickpeas and other pulses, but canned varieties that do not contain preservatives are also a decent option.
Another great not-perishable item that is amazingly versatile and nutritious. If bought unprocessed, unbleached and without preservatives, grains can be stored for a long time. A simple bag of oats can provide healthy breakfasts for days for a family and not only it can be used for oatmeal, but they may be thrown into pancakes, waffles, muffins, granolas etc.
Consider grains like buckwheat, millet, brown rice, basmati rice, barley or any of the so called” ancient” grains. They are all amazing when it comes to nutrition and are quite easy to work with when it comes to cooking.
5. Seeds and nuts
Raw, unprocessed and unsalted seeds and nuts are not only a great sources of energy from healthy fats, but are also rich in vitamins and minerals. They can be a great, healthy snack on their own or can also be consumed with fresh fruits and vegetables, boosting their nutritional value. Food banks accept nuts as long as they are in their original, manufacturer sealed packaging, FYI, so go nuts with donating them!
Now you know...
Hope the choices above will give you a fresh, new perspective on donating non perishable items to food banks. But there is also one more point I'd like to make. Those food banks really know how to stretch your donation dollars, so monetary donations are always the most preferred way to support those relying on food bank supplies.
Holidays also mean increased number of clients served, which means more volunteers are needed to serve the community. If you are unable to contribute financially, food banks are quite appreciative of donation of your time and kindness. 🙂
Hope this holiday season you will join me in this movement of providing more nutritious choices and better access for those in need.
With love and gratitude.