Living Inside The Box: Menu Planning For Food Hampers


A House of Friendship Food Hamper Staple item - the banana box that we pack hampers in

One of the most common items in our warehouse are the banana boxes that we pack hampers in

Today, I would like to share something written by our two new summer students, who are with us, thanks to a grant from Service Canada.  Their first official day of work, I asked them to do a short exercise and share their thoughts in writing.  In a week or two, they will do the same exercise and they can compare and contrast their experiences.  I hope that in the process you will gain some insight into the difficult choices that our program participants face each day, and the hard decisions we have to make when deciding on how to distribute the many food items we receive as a donation.

Hello Sarah

Hi! My name is Sarah and I am currently studying Biochemistry at the University of Waterloo. For the past three years I have been volunteering with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program as a food hamper packer as well as doing a variety of things in the warehouse. However, this summer I will be working as a summer student. With my prior volunteering experience I have regularly handed out food for many individuals; never to contemplate how they will be using and managing the perishable and canned goods they receive.

Hello Jessica

Hi my name is Jessica and I will be one of the Summer Special Project Assistants this year. I have recently graduated from the Social Service Worker Program at Sheridan College and have a passion for helping others. This fall I will be attending the University of Waterloo in the Therapeutic Recreation program. I look forward to my time at the Emergency Food Hamper Program this summer and being able to take part in this important and meaningful agency.

Menu planning for one

Sarah: Our first assignment as a summer student was to pack ourselves a hamper and devise a meal plan together. The objective was to make the food last as long as possible with as many snacks in between the meals as could fit.

We took on the role of a single person, living alone; with my prior knowledge as a volunteer here the task seemed extremely daunting. More often than not, single individuals usually only obtain the necessities; potatoes, mac and cheese, soup, maybe some juice or pop, a cup of yogurt, berries, crackers, beans and sauce, meat, a small bag of vegetables, and a loaf of bread. The absence of milk, cream, cheese, cereal, peanut butter and rice is quite apparent.

What did you expect?

Sarah: Making meals from such a small amount of food appeared to be one of the hardest challenges I have faced. However, I also knew that the food obtained in every hamper varies drastically. It is dependent upon the amount of food donated and the projected amount of people coming to the Emergency Food Hamper Program for the week.

Jessica: My expectations going into the task were that I would have a fairly easy time of creating a meal plan with the received items. I am used to working with a tight grocery budget and enjoy being able to create meals with the ingredients I have available.

What was in the box?

The actual food we obtained was:

  • 1L 3.25% milk
  • 500mL of half and half cream
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 3 loaves of bread (2 were loaves were acquired from the lobby)
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 10 small English cucumbers
  • 1 can of beans (398mL)
  • 650g of yogurt
  • 15g of Nutella
  • 1.75L of peach juice
  • 1 qt. of strawberries
  • 500g of lunch meat
  • 500g 2% cottage cheese
  • 5lbs potatoes
  • 250g of crackers
  • 1 cob of corn
  • 2 pomegranates
  • 375g bag of pasta (spaghetti)
  • 284mL cream of chicken soup
  • large mix salad
  • large bag of carrots (980g)
  • 8 plums

Luck of the draw

Sarah: After I saw the amount of food I received, I realized how fortunate I was to be obtaining my food hamper that day. Undoubtedly, the Emergency Food Hamper Program had more donated food than normal during a week expected to have minimal activity. With the food provided we concocted a meal plan lasting 5 days composed of breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks each day.

The menu plan


Breakfast: yogurt, 5 strawberries, plum, toast, juice

Snack: plum, 2 cucumbers, slices of bread

Lunch: crackers, cottage cheese, meat, 6 carrots

Snack: pomegranate, 5 strawberries

Dinner: sandwich (meat, bread, ½ tomato), beans ( ½ can), milk (small cup)


Breakfast: Nutella, toast, juice

Snack: plum, slices of bread

Lunch: beans ( ½ can), cottage cheese, pomegranate

Snack: toast/bread, milk

Dinner: pasta &soup (sauce) (½ amount cooked), 1 cucumber

Day 3

Breakfast: yogurt, plum, toast/bread, juice

Snack: plum, cucumber, milk

Lunch: left over dinner (pasta & soup), plum

Snack: slices of meat (5), ½ salad

Dinner: soup (acorn squash, 1/3 carrots, ½ potatoes, onion), cucumber slices

Day 4

Breakfast: toasted tomato (bread, 1 tomato), juice

Snack: 2 cucumbers

Lunch: meat, crackers, cottage cheese, carrots (5)

Snack: plum

Dinner: ½ salad, sandwich (cucumber, meat, ½ tomato)

Day 5

Breakfast: yogurt, 5 strawberries, juice

Snack: plum, bread/toast

Lunch: leftover soup

Snack: ½ beans, 2 cucumbers

Dinner: sandwich (cucumber, meat), potatoes with onions, corn


Jessica: I was pleased to see the amount of food that a single person family received. Although the assignment was a little more difficult that I had expected, I believe Sarah and I were able to create a well rounded meal plan for 5 days that included two snacks. The Hamper we received was able to cover quite well the four basic food groups and provide us in this instance with the resources to make healthy meals. I think it is great that the Emergency Food Hamper Program begins the process by letting the customers check off items that they wish the received. This allows the individual or family to have more of a choice and feel more empowered through this process. The Emergency Food Hamper Program also provides for people with special diets, such as Diabetic, No Pork, Halal, and Pregnant or Nursing. These options produce a more inclusive program that allows a larger population to receive the nutrients and necessities they need.

Sarah: How realistic the meal plan is, I’m honestly not too sure. Some days you’re hungrier than others and require more than just two snacks and three meals. Other problems become apparent such as entertaining guests, the perishable items going bad and transportation mishaps. All these put aside, a much greater and more pressing matter arises; where will the next bag of food items come from? What will I eat next? If I was in the position of needing to come in here this month, what would I do next month? These are the questions many individuals from the Kitchener-Waterloo area face each day.

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2 Responses to “Living Inside The Box: Menu Planning For Food Hampers”

  1. Living Inside The Box: Menu Planning For Food Hampers, vol. 2 | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] through the options and dilemmas of a food hamper for a single person. Two weeks after their first hamper, they packed a second one with very different results. The theme of their menu this time around is […]

  2. Five days on a Hamper Diet: surviving, or thriving? | Hofemergencyfoodassistance's Blog Says:

    […] two other posts, our intrepid summer students discussed “living inside the box,” including […]

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