Sharing a Bounty of Stars

As the holidays approach, those of us who are fortunate enough to have a roof over our head, food in our cupboards, and a little extra money to give our family gifts take the time to reflect on our good fortune. As we listen to the news about the economy and hunger and the misfortunes of others, we often realize just how well off we are–well off enough that we can spare a little of our time and money to help those who aren’t quite so lucky. In the spirit of community and kindness that surrounds the holidays, we start looking for ways to give back. Time being short and money being tight, we all want our donations to have the greatest benefit for those in need, so how do we do it?

Cart for the Food Bank
Cart for the Food Bank / Waldo Jaquith / CC BY 2.0

Feeding America, the largest national network of food banks, serves more than 37 million Americans each year, more than 14 million of whom are children. One in every five children struggles with hunger in America. That’s 20% of our future going hungry. Food banks have the power to make a difference, but if the food families receive from these banks make up the bulk of their diet, it won’t do them much good unless it is both filling and nutritious. As you’re shopping for your family this December, here are some tips for choosing nutritious items to provide for struggling families that can help them the most.

Meat, Fish, Poultry, Nuts & Seeds

What they do

These foods provide protein which can be expensive and difficult for food pantries to buy in bulk, so donations are critical. Protein is essential for repairing muscle and tissues that support growth and development, especially in children. It helps the body to resist the illnesses that are common among malnourished people.

What to buy

Canned tuna fish (3 Guiding Stars)
Canned salmon (3 Guiding Stars)
Natural peanut butter, no added sugar (3 Guiding Stars)
Any canned meat that earns Guiding Stars

Grains & Cereals

What they do

Complex carbohydrates keep you feeling full longer–an important quality for anyone who might not be getting enough to eat. Rice and pasta are inexpensive staples that often make up the bulk of a meal, and many breakfast cereals also provide fiber and a variety of essential vitamins and minerals.

What to buy

Brown rice (2-3 Guiding Stars)
Multigrain pasta (3 Guiding Stars)
Whole wheat pasta (3 Guiding Stars)
Unflavored, unsweetened oatmeal (3 Guiding Stars)
Any breakfast cereal that earns Guiding Stars

Fruits & Vegetables

What they do

Fruits and vegetables should make up half your plate at a meal or snack since they are a source of many essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to be healthy and help prevent chronic diseases. As important as getting enough fruits and vegetables is getting a variety of them in your diet. An easy way to do this is to choose produce with different colors, since they provide different nutritional benefits. Have your kids help you “buy a rainbow” for those in need.

What to buy

Tomatoes and tomato sauce, no salt added (2-3 Guiding Stars)
Pumpkin puree (3 Guiding Stars)
Pineapple, no sugar added (3 Guiding Stars)
Green beans, no salt added (3 Guiding Stars)
Raisins (2 Guiding Stars)

Prepared foods such as canned soups and stews are always welcome: chunky soups often provide all of the nutrients noted above as well as liquid that aids hydration. Look for those that earn the most Guiding Stars. Take the time to call your local food pantry as well to find out what they’re shy on: many are more in need of cash than cans, as money allows them to buy food in bulk to get greater benefit for your giving budget. As you’re shopping for your family this December, pick up some extra items to give to those in need. If you follow these simple tips and choose items that have Guiding Stars, you will be giving the gift of health.