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Healthier Donations for Food Pantries This Holiday Season

Updated on November 26, 2012

How Healthy is the Food You are Donating to Food Pantries?

Are you donating food to local food pantries this holiday season? If you have already, then good for you. Thank you for thinking of the less fortunate! If you haven't yet donated, but plan to, I ask that you first consider one thing. Is the food you are donating healthy?

I did part of my dietetic internship at a local food pantry that worked with people who had special dietary needs. The majority of our clients were diabetics and many had heart problems as well. We tried to provide them with foods that would work with the special diets their medical conditions required. It was there I realized that I needed to be more conscientious of the nutritional value of the food I was donating each holiday season.

I was totally guilty of going through my pantry and picking out foods I didn't want any more, throwing them in a bag, and sending them off to the food pantry. I would give myself a pat on the back for thinking of others during the crazy holiday season and then never give it another thought. But the truth of the matter is most of what I was donating, I didn't deem healthy enough to serve my family. So was I really helping the needy or was I just cleaning out my pantry?

When I stopped and considered the nutritional value of what I typically donate, was I really helping them at all? Or was I just contributing to further health problems by giving them highly processed box mixes and full of sodium canned soups?

Image: Earl53

Photo Credit: OctavioLopez

People who live in the poorest areas of the United States are the most prone to obesity. (Source) This is most likely due in part to the poor quality of their diet. Processed foods are cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables.

The poor are less likely to have medical insurance and are less likely to see a doctor regularly.

The poor are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, like diabetes, that could have been prevented with better dietary choices.

"Poor Americans live in neighborhoods where fresh fruit and vegetables are hard to obtain, but where fast foods are abundant. Meanwhile, rich people can afford to shop at Whole Foods, work out and hire personal trainers."

--- Stanton Peele in The Huffington Post

10 Healthier Food Pantry Donation Choices

So now that you are aware that the nutritional value of food pantry donations matter, what are the best foods to donate in terms of health? Here are ten great choices for including in your donations this holiday season.

Tip: Call the food pantry ahead of time to ask what they need most. Focus on those items for your donations.

  1. Whole Grain Pasta
  2. Brown Rice
  3. Rolled Oats (not instant which can be high in sodium)
  4. Whole Grain Cereals with low sugar, like Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Wheaties
  5. Dried Beans
  6. Natural Peanut Butter (no sugar added)
  7. Canned Fruit (canned in juice, not syrup)
  8. Low Sodium Canned Vegetables
  9. Canned Meats and Fish (packed in water, not oil)
  10. Low Fat Shelf-Stable Milk (canned or dried)

Great Deals on Food Pantry Donation Staples

If you are already making an Amazon purchase, why not add on a couple of staple items that your local food pantry needs? One advantage of shopping on Amazon is that if you spend $25 or more, you receive free shipping! (Some exclusions apply.)

Food pantries need donations year round!

Donations peak during the holidays, but then taper off the rest of the year. So try to space out your donations throughout the year, if you can.

Image:  Kakisky
Image: Kakisky

Ways to Donate Healthier Foods Without Breaking the Bank

There's no denying that processed foods are dirt cheap, but at what expense to our health? With some careful shopping, healthier foods can be just as inexpensive as unhealthier ones. With a little planning you will be able to spend the same amount of money and have a bag full of healthy foods to give to your local food pantry.

If you want to donate healthier foods to food pantries but don't want to spend a fortune, here are some tips for saving money on healthier options.

1. Take advantage of Buy 1 Get 1 sales. If you were going to buy the item anyway, why not donate the second one you got for free to a food pantry?

2. Use a coupon if you can. When you are clipping coupons, save the ones for foods that would make healthy donations for a food pantry, even if you don't usually use the item.

3. Combine coupons and sales for even more savings. Most stores allow you to use a coupon on sale items.

4. Keep an eye out for loss leaders. These are items that are deeply discounted to lure you into the store. If you have a coupon you can use on it too, you can often get healthy foods to donate for pennies on the dollar, or even free!

Image: Kakisky

Cash and Gift Cards Are Also Appreciate by Food Pantries

Don't have time to run around looking for bargains on healthy foods that you can donate? An alternative is to give food pantries a monetary donation or a gift card to a local grocery store. That way the food pantry director can use it for the foods the pantry needs most.

Food Pantries Can Use Your Help Through the Holidays and the Rest of the Year as Well.

image: BBoomerinDenial
image: BBoomerinDenial

Are You Donating Food to the Poor This Holiday Season?

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Do you give back to the community some other way? Share how you are helping the less fortunate this holiday season.

Do You Give Food to the Hungry?

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    • TransplantedSoul profile image


      5 years ago

      Helping people throughout the year is such an important and critical aspect of any civilized society. The best approach is to ensure that we apply solutions to help with long term fixes, not simply a meal here and there. Nice lens!

    • Scraps2treasures profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @kimadagem: Thank you so much for tweeting my lens and for your kind words!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you so much for writing this. As a former recipient of food bank items (my favorite was whole wheat rotini, which I *love*) I think this is a really important subject that gets overlooked sometimes. I'm not a SquidAngel so I can't bless your lens but I've tweeted the link to @invisiblepeople and @housing4all (my local group) in the hope they'll pass it along.

    • Scraps2treasures profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @ecogranny: One of our local grocery stores does that through the holidays as well. It would be nice if they remembered that the hungry don't only need food during the holidays, but all year long.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 

      5 years ago from San Francisco

      I have always given only foods I buy for my family for the very reasons you mention here. We buy very little processed or canned food, so our choices are limited. This holiday season, I was grateful that my local supermarket participated in a cash donation program with our local food bank. At the checkout stand, we could opt for coupons that would donate a specified amount to the food bank--$10 for lunch for a family of 4 or $25 to feed them the whole day, and similar choices. Throughout the holiday season, I got in the habit of adding coupons to my bill. Knowing how much the food banks need help all year long, I was disappointed when my supermarket discontinued the program in January and asked them to reinstate it. Apparently not enough of us have requested it, as it hasn't come back yet, but I'll keep reminding them.

    • Valerie Bloom profile image

      Valerie Bloom 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Thanks for writing about this issue! I always give what I consider to be good food (as good as canned/shelf stable can be) when I donate to people in need. This typically includes items like beans, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is a great reminder. When we are in Canada, we often pick up things for donations. I will be careful in choosing next time.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great ways to give back.

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 

      5 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      Thank you for this page! When I was homeless, I was just thankful to get anything to eat but once I was on the other side, I realized how little healthy food gets donated to food pantries and kitchens. In working at food pantries and soup kitchens it was always a struggle to make or distribute healthy food because the food donations ran so heavily toward processed and unhealthy things. Sometimes it seemed like all we had to work with was day-old bread and mushy canned peas.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Its really nice lens, very informative. You brought this wonderful lens to awaken people like me, who don't think of donating healthy food. Congrats.

    • PlethoraReader profile image


      5 years ago from Silicon Valley

      I will absolutely have to change how I donate to pantries because of this article. Thank you! Blessed!

    • lewisgirl profile image


      5 years ago

      This is an amazing lens! This past summer I worked in a garden where all the produce is donated to a local food pantry. This is part of a Master Gardner project. There are many food pantry gardens. We also give out recipes.

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 

      5 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      What a great informative lens. Congratulation on the Purple Star award.....well deserved. Blessed!

    • casquid profile image


      5 years ago

      Such thoughtful suggestions need more exposure. I hope you don't mind finding this lens as a "feature" on my lens, A Warmer Christmas. I felt compelled to give you another avenue of exposure. Great thoughtfulness for making us all aware of our contributions to those less fortunate than ourselves.

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 

      5 years ago

      I do donate...I share...and from next month on, after retirement, I want to be volunteer in some "food sorting center"...congrats on your purple star lens...

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens thank you for taking the time to educate people.

    • BodyWrap profile image


      5 years ago

      I love the ideas in this lens! It's always good to help those who are in need, more so if we can do it in a healthy way. Thanks for the tips!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      In areas where there are seasonal residents, the cleaning out of the pantry usually happens when the residents close their cottages at the end of the summer. One lake community I know of also holds a charity day with raffles, donated crafts for sale, and a golf tournament to raise funds for the local food pantry.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      This should help everyone to make more appropriate donations. SquidAngel Blessings.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I ran a food pantry for a couple of years and it was so rewarding to do.

    • dawnsnewbeginning profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens! Sometimes we are just not aware of what we're doing when we go through our pantry to give!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      You make a very good point here. Out of respect for the less fortunate, we should donate healthy food items, not junk food. Giving money is also a good idea, I find. Thanks for sharing.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 

      5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      We do several times a year. I noticed too, that very few people donate canned vegetables. I try to donate low sodium vegetable soups so there is an opportunity for the recipients to get some veggies.

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 

      5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      We gave bags of food to our churches food pantry this holiday season and I tried to keep things on the healthy eating side--you offer some very good suggestions on choosing f the items for a donation - thank you :>)


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for the information about Healthier Donations for Food Pantries

    • smaraymond profile image


      5 years ago

      This was a very good lens. I often give to the food pantry but also find that the items I am donating are not the healthiest compared to the way my own family eats. I will do a better job of searching for donation items that are low in salt and sugar.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Will try to do once atleast

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      Yes we are active in many local and global outreaches.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 

      5 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      This is such important information that most people probably don't think about when donating to food banks. ~ blessed

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing these ideas on Healthier Donations for Food Pantries This Holiday Season.

    • Scraps2treasures profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @textbookmommy: I am glad to hear it! Thanks so much for the blessing!

    • textbookmommy profile image


      5 years ago

      Our family donates food regularly to our local food pantry and homeless shelter. This lens is great and inspires me to make healthier donations! *Blessed by a Squid Angel


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