Food Banks and Eating Healthy
Food banks and eating healthy seem to be 2 issues in direct conflict with each other. Let’s look at ways to try and reconcile this. How can we put real food into people’s diets?
Thanksgiving is one week away and several communities are about to hold food drives. In our region, Food Bank Drive Day, is Tuesday, October 4, 2016. In Bracebridge, the Oldtimers Hockey League is collecting for the Manna Food Bank. Gravenhurst Rotarians are gathering for the Salvation Army Food Bank.
Who is collecting in your community?
What Food Should We Be Donating?
Well that is a good question. When you consider what most food bank clients leave with, it is no surprise that their health is being compromised. Food Bank food does not lend itself to being a healthy diet. If their health deteriorates, it only lends itself to increasing the problems. You need to eat healthy to gain your health, strength, stamina, and alertness to find a job and keep a job.
Before we can answer the question about what food should be donated, let’s look at what is already being donated.
Typical Food Bank Items are:
- canned beans such as chick peas, kidney beans, mixed beans
- canned brown beans
- peanut butter
- other nut butters
- rolled oats
- fruit in syrups
- canned vegetables
- pasta noodles
- pasta sauce
- canned apple juice
- dry cereals
- canned tomatoes
Where is the nutrition?
Looking at the items listed above, it is evident that nutritional value is hugely lacking. These types of high carbohydrate foods tend to encourage:
- inflammation of joints,
- increased pain intolerance
- irritable bowel syndrome
- celiac disease
- gluten intolerance
- and more
And what about the Peanut Butter?
Yes, what about the Peanut Butter? We are all aware of the huge Peanut Allergy problem in schools. So it makes no sense for Food Banks to still be collecting Peanut Butter to hand out to families. With Peanut Free School Policies, what are food bank users supposed to send their kids to school with? Not a Peanut Butter Sandwich.
What are better alternatives?
We do have to rethink what we donate to Food Banks and try to give healthier choices to their clients. Part of this challenge is due to lack of fridges, freezers and the storage space for more perishable items.
This is a problem that is not going to be fixed overnight. It is going to include a gradual shift in what people donate to food banks. We need to focus more on items with higher protein, and less carbohydrates and sugars/starches. But this is difficult at best. Because another problem is that if food bank foods become too, well, shall I say, exotic, people won’t know how to cook and eat it.
Some of the underlying issues include:
- that a can of shrimp or canned oysters or the such can be totally useless to a food bank user.
- Or how about a can of apple juice and the person doesn’t own a can opener to open it with.
- Perhaps there is a lack of cooking skills too
- budgeting issues to figure out how to increase their own food purchasing power. If they could free up their own cash funds they would be able to buy meats and fresh fruits and vegetables. Food items that would lead to better health. That is why on our Facebook business page, weekly we post our Frugal Friday Flyer. I go through all of the area grocery flyers and show a condensed list of the BEST DEALS. This is to try and show people how to put fresh meats, fruits and veggies into their diets. Even on a tight budget. We do it.
So what can we donate that would help?
Well, some things to consider to donate more of, would include:
Go down the canned fish aisle in your local grocery store. Look for other kinds of canned meats. Even the most creative food bank user gets sick of the likes of tuna. See what else is available. For instance there are some decent sized canned hams available. Yes, it is still a processed meat, but some variety of meat option will brighten anyone’s day.
- canned flaked meats—chicken, turkey, and ham
- hams such as Swift Premium
- canned salmon, pink or sockeye
- tuna, packed in water or oil
Juices and Milks
- tetra paks of shelf stable milks
- canned evaporated milk—can be used in a variety of ways
- powdered milk
- tetra paks of shelf stable milk substitutes such as: almond or coconut milks
- tetra paks of shelf stable juices (not refrigerated until opened)
- bottles of juice with twist caps, not tin cans needing can openers—try to include some Cranberry juices—these are good for those suffering from bladder infections and the such. Also very high in Vitamin C. Make sure these are juices, not fruit “drinks” . When the label says “fruit drink”, it is safe to assume that there is less real fruit content and higher sugar content to make up for it.
- juice boxes for kids—look for true juice, not “drinks” which tend to be higher in sugar
- Look for items lower in sugar—or sugar-free. Such as Ketchups, table syrup (ED Smith Sugar-Free Table Syrup is very good)
- Choose mayonnaise as opposed to sandwich spreads. Spreads are higher in sugar. Mayonnaise is usually labeled with a carbohydrate count of 0-1 per serving.
- fruit cups packed in a water or fruit juice, as opposed to a syrup is a better choice
- unsweetened fruit cups such as applesauces—fruit is naturally high in sugar. So in most cases sugar being added is unnecessary and unhealthy.
- Pudding cups lower in sugar if possible.
- Sugar-Free jello powders
- This can be a challenge, but try Cheez Whiz or the such—this is a better choice than Peanut Butter for school lunches.
- For the typical soups of Tomato, Mushroom, Chicken Noodle and Vegetable—look for reduced sodium (salt)
- Look for bigger cans of meatier soups or stews such as Beef Barley by Primo or Habitant for instance.
- Tetra paks of soup broths—a broth can add flavor to things even when other seasonings are not around.
Canned vegetables is never ideal. However, when we can’t put fresh vegetables into their homes—we just have to look for better canned varieties.
- Canned vegetables—look for lower carbohydrate varieties. Although this can be extremely challenging—the typical peas, corn and carrots are very high in natural sugars. This is a challenge for diabetic food bank users that are trying to control sugar intake.
- Canned vegetables—also look for reduced sodium (salt) varieties too
- Instant Potatoes or boxed potato creations—again, not ideal, but look for varieties with lowest salt and carbohydrate. This isn’t even a cheap alternative. For instance, a typical box which would feed a family for 1 meal costs $2. And a 10lb bag of fresh potatoes—serving many, many more meals can be as low as $1.44.
Pasta and Rice
This is not ideal even in your own diets. However, there seems to be little choice in food banks as these items of pasta and rice are used to stretch meals and fill tummys with unhealthy amounts of carbohydrates—leading to diabetes down the road. When you actually look at cultures where pasta and rice originate—these items should be a side dish—not the main component of the meal. For instance, a scoopful of Mac and Cheese on the plate with the meat and veggies. Not the whole plate of Mac and Cheese with no meat and veggies.
- Add some gluten-free varieties of pasta
- try to include some whole wheat varieties
- there are even some pastas make with more vegetable content
- include some items such as Tuna Helper to help with making those cans of tuna into a dinner meal
- for rice, consider brown rice, or varieties mixed with some wild rice
- Pasta Sauce—look for low-sodium options
- Some Pasta sauces are creamier such as Alfredo styles. Adding some variety to the typical tomato based ones.
These have only been suggestions
Suggestions to get your creative juices thinking as well. Living on a food bank diet is hard and unhealthy at best. However, many of us still desire to help food banks and want to help our hungry neighbors in need. We need to think, well, outside the typical boxes.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is not a problem that is going to be fixed overnight. After all, food banks have been in Canada for 30 years now, and they only seem to be growing. In our own immediate region, I have located 11 food banks. That works out to 1 food bank for every 6,000 residents. That is just in our region. What about yours?
The Next Step
The next step ideally is looking at reducing the need for food banks. Already, I am seeing 2nd and 3rd generation users of food banks. This madness must stop!!
We need to look at things such as:
- how to increase meats in diets
- fresh veggies—can we include community “Fresh Food Baskets” into the food bank program
- fresh fruit would also be increased in the “Fresh Food Basket” type programs
- how to increase their own buying power at the grocery store. Give them back the dignity of choice. Woodstock, Ontario closed the typical food bank and gives out “Food Cards” instead. Not enough—but a huge step forward !!
- teaching budgeting skills –see our article on: Basic Budgeting: When You Are Broke. Also, add your name to our mailing list and get the FREE Basic Budgeting Worksheet that accompanies this article.
- Do people even know how to cook? Can community kitchens be coincided to work at the same locations and times as food banks? We hand out FREE copies of our Free Stuff 4 Daily Needs Cookbook to our clients in need. Books that are sold, help support this program to allow us to send FREE Cookbooks to area shelters and food banks as well.
- Look at why people are needing to access the food bank. Can other services be provided to ease their financial burdens?
- And having families rely on School Breakfast programs is not ideal either. Families need to be able to feed themselves. We don’t need to be fed by Governments and other Social Organizations.
So more about these types of topics in other articles.
Today, we’ve looked at one baby step of helping to put better food into our food bank system. One step at a time.
Food Banks and Eating Healthy
Support your local Food Drives. Just think carefully about what you are donating. Is it healthier? Remember, not toooo exotic either.
God bless you as we all seek to EMPOWER others with a HOPE and a FUTURE.