There are a lot of food drives during the holidays. What food banks need most is cash, but when the Scouts come knocking at your door collecting food or you're asked to bring a non-perishable item as entrance to the school’s holiday concert, food is in order.

NPR did a piece on the types of pantry staples that can help those who rely on food banks to build healthy meals. Food banks say the focus should be on “on whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods” to help people create healthy meals. Instead of donating foods that are high in salt, sugar and highly processed grains, bring foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and whole grains instead.

The best non-perishable foods to donate

  1. canned beans
  2. dry beans
  3. peanut butter, or other nut butters
  4. rolled oats
  5. canned fruit in juice, not in light or heavy syrup
  6. canned vegetables, with no or low-sodium
  7. low-sodium soups
  8. canned tuna in water
  9. canned chicken
  10. brown rice
  11. quinoa
  12. nuts, unsalted
  13. seeds, unsalted
  14. shelf stable milk and milk substitutes
  15. whole grain pasta
  16. low-sodium pasta sauce
  17. popcorn kernels (not microwave popcorn)
  18. canned stews
  19. unsweetened apple sauce
  20. whole grain, low-sugar cold cereals
  21. olive or canola oil
  22. canned tomatoes
  23. dried fruits, no sugar added
  24. honey
  25. chicken, beef and vegetable broths and stock.

Armed with many of these foods, and perhaps a cookbook like "Good and Cheap: Eating Healthy on $4 a Day," which was developed to show SNAP recipients how to cook with inexpensive staples, those who rely on food banks can create healthy, filling meals.

Additional tips:
  • Canned goods with pop-top lids are better than canned goods that require a can opener
  • Avoid foods packaged in glass.
  • Do not donate foods that are past the expiration date.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.