Posts Tagged ‘hamper nutrition’

Golden Egg Award

March 24, 2011

If you’ve already read Matt’s post you’ll understand what this award is for, otherwise click here. I’m here to shine the spotlight on the month where we were able to provide the best nutritional hampers overall in 2010 November! (more…)

On average things are looking up!

March 21, 2011

With 2010 behind us we’ve been able to put it on the scales and gain some knowledge of what happened last year. Some of the knowledge I specifically try to gather each year is about the nutritional value of our food hampers, which you might remember from a previous post. (If not, you can read it here.) So with this in mind, let’s begin looking at how our food averages changed from 2009 to 2010. (more…)

We’re more than just canned foods

October 13, 2010

“Today I had my first food bank experience. I can’t remember ever being through anything more humiliating.”

So begins a personal essay, published in 2006 in Briarpatch magazine.   In it, the author details their first visit to a food program and their frustrated expectations, hopes and forced adjustment to less than ideal circumstances.  You can read it by clicking here.

The author concludes their essay by commenting, “How would I ever feed my family if this was all I had to live on?”

The author of the Briar Patch article raises some important points throughout to reflect on, but this question is what we ask ourselves each day when we take stock of what is in our warehouse. (more…)

Where we go from here…

October 5, 2010

In a previous post, I provided information about the hamper audit, and statistics from the 2009 hampers – but how does that translate into our hampers each day and where do we go from here? First here’s a reminder of the 2009 overall averages for each food category and family size:

Grains Dairy Vegetables and Fruit Meat (and alternatives)
One person 5.4 2.3 9.2 5.6
Two people 3.7 2.0 5.8 4.3
Three people 3.8 1.9 6.3 3.1
Four people 3.3 1.8 5.7 2.8
These figures represent the average number of days a hamper in 2009 would last for each family size, based on the upper limit of the number of daily recommended servings for each food group from Canada’s Food Guide values.

Second, we’ll discuss each category in terms of the gaps and challenges we face in reaching our three to five-day goal of food. Then I will give some insight to the ‘tricks of the trade’ in boosting averages when possible and finally, I’ll wrap it all up with some food for thought. (more…)

2 years and counting…counting food that is!

September 28, 2010

I started working here near the end of February 2008 and began my first project a month later: the hamper audit. The main reason I enjoy this project is because it’s fascinating to track each and every item that is distributed in hampers for families of one to four persons when we open and when we close. Tracking all these items helps us have a comprehensive list of what may have been in a hamper on any given day. This helps us identify and track trends in donations and demand, and better understand what we are distributing each day. But creating these lists is only half the project; the other half involves organizing each item in groups to determine how nutritious our hampers are, based on Canada’s Food Guide values.

For any item to be accepted into one of the food groups it has to meet certain nutritional requirements. Though most items are easy to categorize such as a broccoli florets and yogurt, there are more “difficult” foods that require some evaluation. One example of a “difficult food” is crackers, which the Food Bank has been consistently had available for many weeks now. Crackers are a simple snack and are generally acceptable for anyone to eat, but can be high in sodium. This presents a challenge, as the Food Guide encourages food choices to be low in calories, fat, sugar and sodium. As a result I need to read the label to make an educated decision on whether the crackers are a grain serving or an extra since the food guide recommends minimizing sodium in your diet.

Nevertheless I’m not here to give a lesson on nutrition; instead this blog will share some of the 2009 statistics I have collected doing the hamper audit. One thing to note is that these statistics are a result of many wonderful donations, and Raymond’s (our warehouse coordinator) excellent predictions with his quotas. Luckily these factors seem to work well together, as our program has been able to consistently distribute an average of three to five days worth of food in almost all food categories. (more…)

If you ate today…. thank a farmer!

July 27, 2010

Summer is here with full force, and there is a lot to choose from at the busy farmers markets and roadside produce stands all across the region.  I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who have been making full use of the locally produced Buy Local Buy Fresh maps to pick up flowers, potatoes, corn and other seasonal goodies for their table.

For those who lack the income to put food on their tables, places like us exist to help address some of those needs, where possible.   People receiving food from us often thank us profusely for the service we provide, but we’re really just facilitating the generosity of their neighbours.  We don’t grow the food or earn the money to purchase it.  We just work to receive, sort and ultimately honour the generosity of others by ensuring that it goes to the people who need it.

This week has seen a tremendous amount of produce come to us from a number of local farmers and groups.  The Elmira Produce Auction has shared zucchini and cucumbers.  Jay West Wholesale Produce has donated beans, greens and peppers.  A farm in the Milton area donated potatoes, lettuce, greens like kale and spinach as well as zucchini and fresh herbs.  And to top it all off (so far!) Trevor Herrle of Herrle’s Country Farm Market shared an overflowing tote of corn and sweet potatoes with us this morning! Through the magic of twitter here they are:

From the fields to the back of our truck! Another great donation from Herrle's.

The corn is already on our food distribution line beside the beans and potatoes, finding it’s way into hampers as I type this up.  The sweet potatoes are now in boxes hanging out with the cucumbers at our hamper “window”, and hamper packers are offering them as an extra item to everyone getting food today.

At the best of times, you always need to remember where your food comes from.  But when things are looking grim, we’re all very fortunate that people locally are thinking of others, and sharing what they can with those in need.  For all of us here at the Food Hamper Program, it’s humbling to see the variety and quantity that comes our way.

Eating exercise: Old Mother Hubbard NOW has food in her cupboard

May 28, 2010

Some of you may remember the photo essays from March and early April where we outlined an example hamper for various family sizes that were served by our program in October and November 2009. These essays discussed various aspects such as how our program operates and unusual foods in our waiting area, large donations of food that our program was able to distribute, baby items we are able to provide, and a special diet need to accommodate.

This blog is a twist on the idea of a photo essay. The essays provided an overall glimpse of the types and amounts of food available in a hamper, and a brief story on a family it was given to. However this blog is an eating exercise challenge! Below is a descriptive list of all the food items a single person could have received in a hamper on May 17th.

– One can of vegetable soup
– One loaf of white bread (not sliced)
– Box of instant oatmeal (8 packages)
– Two boxes of macaroni and cheese
– Box of wheat thin crackers (250 grams)
– One cup (100 mL) of yogurt
– One liter of goats milk (your choice of white or chocolate)
– Five pounds of potatoes (approximately 15 potatoes)
– One head of lettuce
– One cob of corn
– Head of broccoli
– Bag of (5) plums
– One can of salmon
– Bag of (5) sausages
– Bag of pretzels
– Single pepperette
– Bag of chocolate chip cookies
– 300 mL orange juice
– Banana pudding mix
– Head of celery

The challenge or “eating exercise” is to take a few minutes to envision that this is all the food you have available at home for the next few days. Think of how you might be able to stretch this hamper out in snacks and meals. Also try to keep in mind all the foods that you may regularly purchase or like to have available at home and are missing; or some of the cooking challenges you may encounter such as not having butter to cook with.

When I did the exercise I envisioned that I’d be able to get three days of snacks and meals from this hamper. However I had to be creative and plan things out carefully. I made a few revisions through planning to help make things last as long as possible. Planning out how to use this hamper is easy for me because I took the time to think about it, which I don’t envision a lot of our patrons may often do. Their lives are full of many other issues that demand their time, energy and attention such as searching for employment opportunities, dealing with medical issues, multiple appointments with caseworkers or other professionals, and many other time-consuming issues. So I can understand that having the time or energy to think about planning out a hamper may not always be feasible. However I feel like if I hadn’t made planning my hamper a priority, I believe I would struggle to find enough snacks and meals to keep me going.

Planning the meal list was easy though – for me the real challenge in this exercise was trying to accept the fact that I would be eating foods that I typically don’t eat or purchase like salmon, plums and broccoli. Though I’m not against eating these foods; I think it would be hard for me to feel satisfied after eating when I didn’t have much of a choice in the foods I had. From there I’d probably feel less motivated and energetic for all the things I need to do throughout the day.  I think this would then make overcoming the reasons that brought me to get a hamper more difficult than I could have ever originally imagined.

How many days of food do you see in this hamper? Leave a comment and let us know!

Are you getting enough?

May 17, 2010

Vegetables and Fruit are the largest part in Canada’s Food Guide rainbow, which make these the most important foods to include for a healthy diet. This is probably why you’re familiar with the advertisements that advocate to eat five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. The campaign works to educate people on the importance of eating a good supply and variety of vegetables and fruit to reduce risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke. But do you know if you’re getting enough? If you’re not sure, go to Canada’s Food Guide website to build your food guide and make sure you’re getting enough.

Doing the exercise to build a food guide is easy; it takes about seven minutes to check off all sorts of foods that you may typically have at home. However these check marks don’t have any way to fill your stomach. Transforming this food guide into an actual diet is the real challenge. It’s especially challenging for people on fixed (or low) incomes because they often lack the money to keep their fridge full of fresh vegetables and fruits on a regular basis.

Our program is able to help approximately 19 000 people who often lack enough money to buy foods like vegetables and fruits every year. This is all thanks to our cooler that is approximately 135 square feet or 1080 cubic feet. To give you a better idea of how big that is: most household fridges hold about 18 to 26 cubic feet. So we’ve got over 40 fridges worth of space to hold many of the donations we receive. Only a small number of emergency food programs have the facilities to handle perishable donations.

“Fruits and vegetables are helpful to get here because they’re really expensive…my kids can go through a bag of apples in a day.” – Father of 3 children, 20s

“(Without fruit I feel) like there is a gap in my body and I have less energy.” – Single female, 20s

“It’s nice you have veggies…It’s a priority in my diet, and this program always seems to have lots.” – Single male, 30s

“I feel like I have a terribly incomplete diet when I have to rely on soup and bread. Though I’m full I’m not content…Fruit is just great! You can treat it as a dessert or put it in a salad to make it more tasty.” – Single woman, 50s

And as you can see from the quotes above, we need all the space we can get to handle as many donations as possible. Buying fresh vegetables and fruit is difficult on a limited budget as these foods may spoil or run out before you have money to re-stock your fridge. Therefore patrons are often forced purchase more non-perishable foods to help their groceries last until their next paycheck or the end of the month. These foods are typically cheaper, but relying on these sources make it difficult for patrons to get enough vegetables and fruit that are needed in their diet. Instead they’re stuck eating canned foods full of sugar and salt to fill their stomachs and save a small amount of money.

“My husband was paying child support but has now lost his job; so now it makes it harder for me to make it through the month. Today at lunch we picked through the fridge and freezer for food; whether it went together or not – we just ate it since it’s all we had.” – Single mother of 3, 30s

Do you like crunchy or smooth?

May 10, 2010

Personally I dislike both – I’m not a fan of peanut butter. However I know I’m in a small group of people who feel this way. In almost every household there is at least one person that tries to ensure peanut butter makes it into the grocery purchases. Peanut butter is the final article in our series of patrons’ reflections regarding staples foods such as pasta, potatoes, rice, and canned meat and fish. (And hopefully you can enjoy this article as much as you have enjoyed the previous four!)

Peanuts are listed as one of the nine most common food allergies to have. Yet of the 20 or more people I spoke with everyone couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful peanut butter was to have available at home. No one made any comments on the fact that it’s one of the most common food allergies. There were no comments from parents about how difficult it is to re-plan other lunches for the children or that they’re unable to take this favourite sandwich spread with them to work. Instead people were more focused on the many different ways their family often eats peanut butter at home such as straight off a spoon, cookies or mixed in various other creative inventions. Also everyone mentioned that without peanut butter their diet would include a significantly lower amount of protein and other nutrients that peanut butter provides.

 “If I don’t have lots of meat, I eat peanut butter as the next best thing for health.” – Mother of 2 children with one more on the way, 40s

“Peanut butter provides some protein when I’m out of meat and broke.” – Single female, 20s

According to Canada’s Food Guide meat and alternatives section, two tablespoons (or 30 millilitres) of peanut or nut butters are one serving of meat. For people on limited incomes peanut butter can be a very cost-effective way of achieving the two or three servings of meat a person requires daily in their diet. Many people preferred peanut butter for this reason as their budget hardly has the room to stretch to include many cuts of meat.

“When you don’t have peanut butter…it’s like something is missing…it’s never really right.” – Single mom of 3 kids, late 20s

“Peanut butter is the basic protein that keeps me alive. It’s an absolute must! I have a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread by my bed. It’s all three meals for me: breakfast, if I’m up; lunch; and dinner.” – Single male, 50s

A peanut butter sandwich is a favourite meal or snack for many people because it’s a quick and easy to make that’s full of flavour. So how do you change your “sandwich” when peanut butter isn’t available? One man in his 50s finds he’ll simply eat plain bread to settle the acids in his stomach. Occasionally he’ll have a can of soup available to cook so he can dip the bread, which he thaws from his freezer, in for more flavour. Sadly he often lives with a small amount of food at home because he has less than fifty dollars for food for the month. Therefore not getting peanut butter from emergency food programs drastically affects his level of nutrition.

“Peanut butter is like half of my diet. I don’t always feel like eating. Peanut butter doesn’t fill me up but gives me something healthy to snack on during the day.” – Single male, 20s, who has Crohn’s disease

“Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the one food we don’t have to fight our children to eat. So when we don’t have it, it’s a pain right square in the behind – to put it in plain English.” – Father of 3 children, 20s  
“When you get low on money and food, you get creative in what you make.” – Single male, 50s
A married man in his late 40s had a variety of ways that he uses peanut butter that are not very traditional in my mind. He’s been in a need to access our program for emergency assistance for the last six years. So he started finding ways to tweak regular meals like peanut butter sandwiches because he was finding that otherwise his family would likely lose a taste for it. What he does to a peanut butter sandwich now is he adds cheese whiz, diced onion and tomato. It’s still a simple meal, but also incorporates almost every food group. However he wishes that one day he can choose to be this creative with staple foods, instead of being ‘forced’ into it by his limited cupboards and finances.

Canned meat and fish fit all occasions

May 3, 2010

Spam is one of the first items that came to mind when I asked patrons about canned meat while they were waiting for a hamper. Most patrons believe canned meat such as spam is a mystery meat product, so they don’t often buy it. Subsequently after talking to a few people, I learned that I needed to expand the title of this staple food to canned meat AND FISH, which helped me learn how significant this food is to patrons accessing emergency food programs. This post on staple food is the fourth in a series on topics such as pasta, potatoes, rice and peanut butter.

“It makes me cry…it’s sad…but I appreciate having this program so I don’t have bare cupboards or a bare fridge.” – Single mom, 40s

Approximately half a can of meat or fish equals one serving of meats and alternatives based on Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. Canned meat and fish are one of the meat products our program is able to distribute in emergency food hampers because of donations that come to us from the Food Bank and from direct donations. Some other meat and alternative products that we frequently distribute in our food hampers are canned beans, peanut butter, and frozen meats. Canned beans, peanut butter and canned meat or fish are currently in the top four items most needed in food bank donations . Therefore supplies of these items are frequently very limited in the quotas for our hampers, if the food items are available at all.

“It’s hard when there’s not much food at home…I often just end up doing without.” – Single male, 40s

“Tuna is a fairly inexpensive staple. So it’s frustrating when I can’t afford it; especially when I have my kids! It’s demoralizing not to have a simple food like this.” – Father with 2 part-time children, late 30s

What happens when you lack the money to buy the foods you need or want at home and don’t get these foods at an emergency food program? Well, the most common response to this question by patrons is that they would be forced to live without it, which I think is heartbreaking. Canned meat and fish tends to be a cheaper alternative than fresh or frozen meat. Therefore this likely means that their diet would lack protein and other nutrients that meats often provide since hardly anyone I talked to could think of an alternative or substitute for canned meat.

”As a parent it’s really hard because you feel like you’re not providing well. Even if they won’t eat or don’t like it, you feel better when there’s something in the fridge or cupboards” – Single mother of two children, 30s

“It’s easy to have Kraft dinner and pork and beans at home but yuk! You really get sick of it. Even adding canned meat makes things better.” – Female, 40s

People who need to frequently visit any emergency food programs are often provided with the same general foods each visit such as pasta and Kraft Dinner, canned beans, soup, and rice. Eating the same types of food can get boring fast! Several patrons solve this issue by adding canned meat or fish to other staple foods that are available at home. By opening a can of meat or fish they find that it gives a regular dish a whole new taste. But the value of canned meat and fish is about more than taste. Including meat in almost every meal is very important to many patrons. Most said it didn’t even have to be an expensive cut of meat; they enjoyed having anything from a sausage to a can of beans to a chicken breast to a peanut butter sandwich. Having canned meat and fish at home helps patrons find a cost-efficient way to meet nutrition requirements when there is a limited amount of food available.

“Tuna and fish is such a good source of protein and it fills you up.” – Single female, 50s

“It’s hard not to have a lot of food. But I make sure I know my priorities: number one is that my rent is paid. Number two is that my son has a nutritious lunch.” – Mother, 40s

Many patrons appreciate receiving canned meat and fish in emergency food hampers as it’s a non-perishable type of meat that provides a similar degree of nutrition to fresh meat. Canned meat and fish typically lasts longer than fresh meat. Hence patrons have a bit more of choice as to when they use canned meat and fish to make a simple sandwich to send with their children to school or use in a dish to fill a dinner plate with. Therefore a lot of people try to stock up on canned meats when they have a little extra money or there is a sale. Canned meat and fish can be used creatively in dishes for a source of protein that will help the rest of their food stretch out until the end of the week or month when more money will be available.

“Not having canned meat or fish makes me feel like, not embarrassed, but I just wonder why I’m always struggling! It’s degrading to not be able to always get what I want.” – Single female, 50s

“To be honest I don’t buy (canned meat or fish) because I simply can’t afford it…sometimes I think about taking a bridge because it feels terrible…It’s tough to live on nothing – imagine living on $22 a month for food.” – Single male, 50s