'Tis the season to donate non-perishables, right? During the holidays, food pantries are at their busiest, and there are plenty of opportunities to make donations of foods throughout the season.
SuperFood Drive wants us to get super specific about our donations, making sure the foods we donate are nutrient-dense, non-perishable super foods.
"Anywhere that is doing a food drive, it should be healthy food," said Ruthi Solari, founder and executive director of the organization.
"Many people have the idea that those who struggle should just be happy with what they get," she said. "But the charitable food network is not there to perpetuate that idea."
Food banks and other charitable organizations that provide food aren't just there to help fill stomachs. Solari believes they're there to help people think better, sleep better, make better decisions, and even to help them stop relying on medications to solve underlying health problems.
"About 40 percent of those who go to food pantries already have one person at home with diagnosed diabetes, usually type 2. That number does not include those who might have pre-diabetes or undiagnosed diabetes," said Solari.
Donations that make a healthy difference
To affect health positively, food pantry offerings need to be healthy, whole and nutrient-dense. Those who donate should steer away from highly processed foods that contain unhealthy fats, sugar and a lot of sodium.
Solari recommends calling the food pantry you'll be donating to and asking what they need most, and then donating those items in their healthiest forms. Here are some of her suggestions for ideal items:
- Brown rice (instead of white rice)
- Whole oats (instead of pre-packaged, pre-flavored oatmeal)
- Whole grain pasta
- Whole grain cereal (that's low in sugar)
- Canned tuna
- Canned salmon
- Nut butters
- Low-sodium soups
- Heart-healthy cooking oils
Because a lot of pantries now partner with farms and other organizations that can provide fresh fruits and vegetables, canned fruits and vegetables sometimes sit on the shelves at pantries. Solari suggests finding out if the pantry offers fresh produce or if they're in need of canned. Pay attention to the pantry's needs when you donate.
- Fruit (in its own juice, not in heavy syrup or high fructose corn syrup)
- Vegetables (with no sodium added)
- Dried fruit (no sugar added)
There are also some foods that Solari says you should never donate:
- Candy (In fact, some pantries have to throw it away and pay a dumping cost.)
- Heavily processed, fat laden treats like cakes, pastries, danishes or cookies
- Macaroni & cheese
- Instant ramen
- Sugary cereals
Learning how to eat well
Not everyone who receives these foods knows how to prepare them, so the organization partners with EatFresh.org.
"EatFresh.org is an amazing resource for people who want to learn how to eat healthy and easily on a budget. It's designed to use food pantry foods in a limited kitchen," said Solari. "We really are encouraging going back to the kitchen and learning how to use these foods even if it's simple recipes."
Another resource SuperFood Drive provides to the food organizations they work with is a copy of the "Good and Cheap," a cookbook created as a project by Leanne Brown for her master of arts degree in food studies. It's specifically designed for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP recipients, and the recipes are high on plant-based proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and designed to cost around $4.
SuperFood Drive has created a certification program for food pantries to follow to become nutrition pantries. It's what the organization is focusing most on at the moment.
They've also created a curriculum that teaches youth about food insecurity, food sovereignty and eating healthy foods. A service project portion of the curriculum includes volunteering in a food pantry, planting a garden with food for donation, or hosting a food drive.