By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holiday season where excess abounds in a variety of forms: eating, shopping, drinking, spending, partying. But what about those that don’t have enough? “Food insecurity” is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food on a regular basis. More than 800 million people live every day with hunger or food insecurity, and according to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, “Nearly 80,440 people in Northeast Tennessee are at risk for hunger and may not know where they will get their next meal.”
These are the grim and unfortunate facts that are very difficult to think about when one is head over heels at the dessert table, loosening the belt from the large meal they consumed, or tossing out the festivity leftovers. The positive side is that we can all contribute to helping our neighbors, friends, and community members, both locally and across the globe. There are 70 food pantries in our area alone (www.foodpanrty.org, www.suntopia.org/johnson_city/tn/food_pantries.php). They will happily accept donations from food to clothes to money to volunteers.
Donate Healthy Options
Now, this is where the registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) hat kicks in! Of course, any food is better than no food; however, nutrition is what we want to strive for, and it’s how we thrive. So, yes, macaroni and cheese and processed peanut butter may be the food staples that come to mind, since they are cheaper and readily available, but ultimately we want to contribute to health and not just calories. The typical go-to processed foods tend to be higher in sodium, sugar, and simple carbohydrates and low in nutrients, not beneficial for anyone but the manufacturer. Quality does matter, especially for the more vulnerable populations like children, older adults, and those faced with chronic disease(s), as well as those who are malnourished (and may simultaneously be facing obesity) that often benefit from many of these resources and programs. Let’s take a look at some healthier options that can be donated to these facilities that typically have more nutritional benefits for those that are served:
-box of brown or wild rice
-beans (dry, canned-low-sodium version, pinto, black, navy, kidney)
-low sodium canned tomatoes
-low-sodium canned vegetables
-old-fashioned or steel cut oatmeal
-peanut, almond or other nut butters (ingredients simply need to be the nut and possibly salt, no other ingredients necessary)
-low-sodium vegetable broth
-whole grain or whole wheat crackers
-fruit cups in its own juice
-low sugar cereal like Cheerios and Chex
Tips for Cutting the Cost for Healthy Eating
One of the main barriers that RDNs hear is, “Eating healthy is so expensive.” Dietitians have continually found ways to challenge that statement and strive to teach our patients and clients ways to enhance nutrition without breaking the budget. It does require a little preparation, open-mindedness, and navigation, but it can be done. Some suggestions include:
-Make a list, and stick to it.
-Use apps and flyers to compare better deals at your local grocery stores; oftentimes the store will match a competitor. The internet has several coupon and $-saving tools as well.
-Look around. Oftentimes shelf space is prime real estate for name brands; look to the top, bottom, right and left to see if other brands have similar options and cheaper prices.
-Buy in bulk if you can; staples like brown rice, oats, beans, and frozen vegetables will be cheaper per serving than prepackaged single serve items. Typically, the more packaging and preparation, the higher the cost of the food item to cover those expenses. For example, a single-serve oatmeal cup is several times more expensive per serving compared to buying a canister of old-fashioned quick cook oats.
-For additional suggestions visit http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2012-01/eating-healthy-on-a-budget.html
For those of you that may be facing food insecurity yourself, a very limited budget or have additional challenges, there are some resources that can be downloaded for free if you have access to a computer. Leanne Brown wrote a cookbook called Good and Cheap Eat Well on $4/Day and a PDF can be downloaded for FREE. See also the cookbook Wildly Affordable Organic: Eat Fabulous Food, Get Healthy, and Save the Planet—All on $5 a Day or Less by Linda Watson. There are many more books and programs readily accessible that offer guidance to navigating nutrition when the dollar is trying to be stretched every which way.
Food and nutrition insecurity is a very real, and SOLVABLE, concern and all of us should be thinking about how we can spread the wealth of health and nutrition with those less fortunate. Even a dollar, a can, or a smile when volunteering is a gift that means so much to those with so little. We may not be able to do everything, but we all have the power to do something. I challenge you to think about how you can enhance someone’s life with food and nutrition this holiday season. Invite your family to make it part of your celebratory traditions and see how nutrition can change lives, maybe even yours. I am always here to help navigate you through your nutritional needs. Have a most Healthy Holiday Season and Happy New Year! Cheers!
State of Franklin Healthcare Associates
423-794-5550 | www.sofha.net