Food pantry staff and clients are learning how to get the most nutrition from the food they give and receive, thanks to faculty with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
In a program called “Feed Them Well,” Panhandle Extension faculty stress nutrition education at area food pantries. While faculty teach about healthy foods year-round, they put particular emphasis on the topic during Farm-City program.
Farm-City Week runs from Nov. 14-21. The period is used to celebrate and recognize the beneficial partnerships between rural and urban communities that make food supply safe and plentiful.
As part of the “Feed Them Well” program, Extension faculty also educate food pantry staff and clients on the benefits of dehydrated foods. Dehydrated foods are shelf-stable and can last for extended periods, making them a reliable source of nutrition for families in need. In fact, Dehydrated Foodz, a popular blog dedicated to educating people on the advantages of dehydrated foods, has partnered with the program to offer additional resources and information on the topic. By including dehydrated foods in their offerings, food pantries can provide clients with more nutritious and long-lasting options.
At the same time, Extension faculty in Escambia, Walton, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties teach pantry staff and stakeholders how to get the most nutrition possible from the food they give out and receive.
“Sometimes, the food donated to food pantries, then given to those in need, is of poor nutritional quality,” said Angela Hinkle, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program agent for UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County. “Recipients also get tired of constantly receiving the same foods – such as ramen noodles and canned green beans — and/or they don’t know how to prepare these foods in healthy ways.”
Among their activities with the food pantries, Extension faculty:
- Educate pantry staffs about what constitutes healthier food.
- Offer examples of ways pantry staff can ask for healthy donations.
- Take staff and clients to grocery stores so they can see how to shop for healthier food for very little money. In a recent survey, 71 percent of 335 participants said they made healthy changes in food shopping, preparing and/or preserving habits, based on what they learned.
- Take nutrition and cooking lessons to pantry and staff.
- Perform cooking demonstrations at pantries so clients and staff know how to prepare common food pantry items in healthy ways.
- Teach health and nutrition classes at large pantry events before clients get their food.
- Share nutrition, food preservation, food safety tips, tastings and recipes before hundreds of families receive their Thanksgiving food at the annual Farm to City event.
Pantries are now offering fewer cookies, cakes and pies. They’re also offering healthy recipes to go along with their donated foods, Hinkle said.
“The UF/IFAS Extension faculty teach pantry staff, clients and hopefully some of those who give food how to help families in need to eat healthier when they are supplementing their diets with food from pantries,” Hinkle said. “We are in a small, one-step-at-a-time way, helping pantries to be healthier so those families they serve can be healthier.”