November 27, 2012

Giving a gift of food


---- — According to the USDA’s “Household Food Security Study in the United States in 2011,” about 15 percent of all U.S. households faced periods of “food insecurity” during the last year.

Also, 5.7 percent of households have faced such severe food shortages that one or more members had to eat less or skip a meal due to a lack of money or other food resources.

As you can imagine, food insecurity has many negative impacts on the health and well-being of those affected by it. Locally, food shelves help individuals and families from all walks of life to be more food secure.

This season is a great time to give to a food shelf, as many families struggle to heat their homes and deal with unexpected economic problems, which could stem from unpaid medical leaves, like staying home with a sick child during the cold and flu season.

A network of organizations works together in our region to make sure families do not suffer from food insecurity, including community groups and religious organizations. You can contribute to these food shelves through larger food drives or consider making an individual donation.

Most local food shelves offer food packages tailored to the needs and preferences of the individuals and families requesting assistance, so any food given is accepted and will likely be enjoyed and appreciated.

That being said, here are some recommendations for healthy, shelf-stable options:

Grains: Think whole grains, like oatmeal or whole wheat pasta, as they are healthier and more filling than refined grains. Instant brown rice is a whole grain and microwaveable, which may be easier to use in some situations. When your favorite cereal is on sale, consider buying an extra box to donate.

Vegetables: When choosing canned vegetables, try to find lower-sodium options. Some examples are canned tomatoes and tomato sauce, green beans, peas, corn, carrots and spinach.

Fruit: Dried and canned are both shelf stable, nutritious options. Ideally look for choices with less added sugar, like unsweetened applesauce, fruit canned in juice or light syrup or raisins.

Protein: The choices in this group help to complete a meal and make the other choices more filling. Canned meats, like tuna or chicken, can be added to a casserole or eaten on a sandwich. Beans, like kidney beans or black beans, are loaded with fiber and protein, and can be used for chili, soup or tacos. Nuts and peanut butter are also healthy choices.

Another thing to keep in mind is that convenience foods are always welcome and needed. Many individuals and families live for extended periods of time in hotels and other temporary housing that do not provide kitchen access, so the microwave is their only method for cooking, and they may have very limited refrigeration. Canned or prepackaged meals, like soups and pasta meals, are ideal in these situations.

Often, these meals can be found in lower-sodium or -fat options, though they may cost more.

Healthier versions of these foods are greatly appreciated, especially for those managing chronic diseases, by many people living in temporary housing. 

Giving is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. Giving food is a great way to benefit your neighbors and community.

Remember, even if your budget is small, your donation does not have to be large to make an impact on someone struggling with food insecurity. 

Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.