At the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, we rely on donations to help make food available to those who face hunger across our 11-parish service area. But have you ever wondered what to donate? While we accept many food items, some nonperishable foods are better than others. Dr. Elizabeth Gollub, Assistant Professor at the LSU School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, has some suggestions and things to consider.
ACCESSIBILITY AND NUTRITION
First, Dr. Gollub has some general access items to keep in mind, “Think in terms of cans with pop-top lids. This eliminates the need for a can opener and it could be [physically] more manageable for older adults or those with arthritis/functional disabilities. In general, think about how a food is packaged and if it can be opened relatively easy and without kitchen tools – for example scissors, nut crackers, skewers.”
In addition, when selecting food items to donate to the Food Bank, consider donating healthy foods that you would want your own family members and friends to have access to. Canned vegetables, soups, meats and beans often come in “low-sodium,” “reduced-sodium” or “no-salt-added” options. “Too much sodium is associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases,” said Gollub. “Most people get sufficient amounts of sodium from other food/food products.”
CANNED VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
“Include a variety of vegetables – not just peas and corn – because different vegetables contain different and varying amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, and because variety keeps things interesting,” said Gollub. “So, include peas, carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, white potatoes, corn, tomatoes, green beans, mushrooms, asparagus, beets, etc.”
For fruits “Look for canned fruit that is packaged in juice and/or with no added sugars. This will provide the great fruit flavor without the [usually] unneeded sugar calories,” she suggests. Fruits are a great item, because most everyone enjoys them.
“Soups are a great item to donate to the Food Bank, as they can be the basis of a nutritious meal – especially if you add additional vegetables and grains or pasta,” says Gollub. “In addition, read labels and look for soups that contain at least twice as much protein as fat.”
DRIED OR CANNED BEANS
“Beans are a good source of low-fat protein, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals. Beans generally have a positive effect on health, for example they are associated with improved management of blood sugar, cholesterol and body weight,” Gollub explains. “Dried beans have the same nutritional properties and they are naturally low in sodium.” Variety is also good to consider when donating beans and lentils – as there are so many options, such as black beans, red beans, kidney beans, etc.
Canned meats are considered high protein foods – but they are also good sources of vitamins and minerals, says Gollub. “Good choices include tuna and salmon (packed in water) – they provide omega-3 fatty acids – heart healthy fats; chicken or turkey; peanut butter – this is a higher fat product, but peanuts contain “healthy” fats.” Donations of nuts and seeds are great as well. They add “protein, fiber, antioxidants, healthy fats” to an overall diet.
As a Louisiana staple, rice is a great food item to donate to those in need. “Rice is a low-sodium, low-fat source of energy that mixes well with vegetables, soups, salads, and complements, or strengthens the quality of the proteins in beans.” There are many different types of rice, but Gollub suggests, for a healthier option, consider donating brown rice as it has more nutrients and fiber.
Pastas are a great nonperishable food item and like rice, there are many different types of pasta – spaghetti, elbows, penne, farfalle, rotini and shells to name a few. “In general, these pastas are a low-fat, low-sodium source of protein and energy. Enriched pasta contains more vitamins and minerals,” Gollub says. “Whole wheat pastas contain more protein, fiber and higher levels of some vitamins and minerals; tri-color pastas provide an added dimension to a meal.”
BREAKFAST CEREAL AND BARS
With such a large variety of breakfast cereals and breakfast snacks and bars on the market, in general, “look for whole grain cereals with less than 5 grams of sugar (more is ok if the cereal has fruit in it), and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, and choose cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals.”
Another great item to donate is rolled oats. Gollub says, “Rolled oats are a great choice for a warm breakfast cereal. Oats make a filling meal and provide oat fiber that helps to lower cholesterol.”
When the Food Bank is armed with an assortment of foods like these, we are able to provide wholesome, nutritious foods to those who are in need, and they are able to cook and create healthy meals for themselves and for their families.