While a movement toward healthy eating has been building for some time, with the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, the trend is gaining national attention. Because diabetes and obesity are on the rise, more and more Americans are beginning to educate themselves on making healthier food choices. As families struggle to put healthy food on the table we began asking ourselves, what is the role of the Food Bank? We know our goal in serving over 132,000 people each month is not simply to fill bellies but must also provide good nutrition.
The Food Bank now evaluates the nutritional value of each item we purchase, looking in detail at sugar and salt content, as well as the vitamins and minerals it contains. Our Senior Food Program serves low-income people over the age of 55, so we buy low-sodium or no sodium canned vegetables. For the Food for Children program that serves kids ages 4-5, we opt for canned fruit in 100% juice, not syrup. We also avoid overly processed foods. Instead, we choose whole food items like beans, rice, and lentils. We also provide the same options to our pantries and soup kitchens giving them more whole grain choices like brown rice, barley, and whole wheat pasta.
Our focus has shifted toward more fresh fruits and vegetables that provide our clients the nutritional balance they need. In that vein, we have rapidly expanded the Farm 2 Kids program that provides fresh produce to low income school children. Distributing fresh produce has increased so significantly over the last few years that 1/3 of the food now distributed by the Food Bank is fresh fruits and vegetables.