Healthy holiday food drives

Providing health and food to your local community.

This time of year gives us many opportunities to help those less fortunate and struggling to provide for their families. Community food drives, school food drives and workplace food drives occur quite a bit around the holidays. Although need is year round, the holidays remind us of what we are thankful to have and also that we can share to help improve the lives of others around us. As you donate food to your local community, Michigan State University Extension hopes you will consider healthy options.

Many foods, such as processed boxed dinners, regular canned vegetables and soups have high amounts of sodium. Eating foods high in sodium contributes to heart disease and blood pressure, two major health problems in the United States. Other foods like packaged sweets, canned fruits in heavy syrup and sugar cereals have added sugars. Foods that contribute to unhealthy weight can contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes, a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States.

If your organization is hosting a food drive, use the MyPlate as a tool to assist those giving. Use the list below to communicate suggested healthier items and set expectations. Or you can make it a friendly competition and divide into teams. Each team is responsible for collecting food for a specific food group. Example: Team A is responsible for the dairy group, options might include non-fat dry milk, evaporated milk, rice milk, etc.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Canned tuna packed in water
  • 100 percent juice
  • Canned beans low or no sodium
  • Canned tomatoes low or no sodium
  • Canned fruit in fruit juice (not syrup)
  • Peanut butter
  • Applesauce
  • Non-fat dry milk
  • Low sugar cereals (bran flakes, oat circles, corn flakes, oatmeal, etc)
  • Whole wheat crackers

Keep it simple and think about foods that are basics or pantry staples. These foods can go a long way for a family and serve many purposes. While it is tempting to raid your own pantry and clean out those maraschino cherries and olives that have been there since last January, will those really help to provide a nutritious meal for a family or senior citizen in your community? Watch store flyers for sales on canned items. Buying multiple cans of the same food is fine. Involve your kids and create a meal to give. A box of whole wheat pasta, low sodium canned peas and carrots, a few cans of tuna packed in water and a jar of low fat or fat free mayo will create a tuna pasta or casserole.

You can also donate cash to the food pantry directly; this will enable them to purchase much more food in bulk from a food bank. Many grocery stores have specific gift cards to purchase that will be donated to local food pantries as well. However you choose to give, know that your generosity is making an impact in your local community!

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