We’ve all done it before — headed into our pantry to round up those never-been-eaten canned goods or strange spaghetti to cobble together a food drive donation. But are those odds and ends what food bank recipients need the most?
“While the food bank is grateful for any and all non-perishable donations, some are better than others,” explains Katharine Schmidt, executive director for Food Banks Canada. “The best donations are ones that reflect a nutritious dinner plate.”
Schmidt shares some of the items food banks need the most this season:
Whole grain foods like oatmeal, barley, high-fibre cereals or whole-grain pasta contain plenty of fibre and are an excellent source of minerals like magnesium and iron. Food banks with meal programs will use them in their kitchens to create fresh meals for their clients.
Baby cereals and jarred baby foods make good donations since roughly one third of Canadian food bank recipients are children. “Food banks don’t like to take chances with infants, so make sure your baby food hasn’t expired before putting it in the bin,” Schmidt recommends.
Lean proteins from foods like canned tuna and chicken; plant proteins like peanut butter, beans, and lentils; or more complete proteins contained in other canned meats help in the maintenance of body tissue and contribute to a feeling of satiety. Nut butters are a favourite because they’re a versatile ingredient in snacks and meals.
Canned fruit is high in vitamin C and dietary fibre. Likewise, if they’re free of added salt and sugars, studies suggest that frozen and canned vegetables are often as good as fresh produce. “When picking out canned fruit or vegetables, the ones packed in water with no sugar or salt added are best,” says Schmidt.
Milk alternatives like powdered milk, almond milk, and rice milk from the grocery store shelf contain vitamin D, vitamin A, and, most importantly, calcium.
Money is by far the best donation you can make to your local food bank. Financial donations give food banks the flexibility to buy fresh perishables for their hampers or load up on items they’re not getting enough of.
“From now until December 24, stores like Real Canadian Superstore and No Frills are accepting both cash and food donations on behalf of local food banks,” says Schmidt. “If everyone donated just two dollars or two items today, Canadian food banks could meet the needs of their communities for months to come.”