Health & Fitness

Local food banks provide vital access to healthy foods

When donating to food banks, consider donating healthy choices. Beans as well as whole grains, like oatmeal, are good options.
When donating to food banks, consider donating healthy choices. Beans as well as whole grains, like oatmeal, are good options. Idaho Statesman file photo

Healthy food, regular physical activity and checkups with primary-care providers are critical components of wellness and longevity.

However, many adults in Idaho live in low-income communities with high rates of food insecurity and a lack of access to the kinds of foods that they need to maintain their health or treat their illnesses.

Through collaborations with community-based organizations and health-care partners, food banks can be a part of the solution for diet-sensitive chronic health issues.

In the United States, the nation’s most prevalent chronic illnesses are diet-related. These include obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

These illnesses can be prevented or moderated by access to healthful food. Food banks play a role in helping those in need of nutritional assistance. Food banks can provide foods lower in sodium, fat and sugar. Additionally, they can provide fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein.

A recent survey by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks, estimates that one out of three households that use food banks have a family member with diabetes, and 58 percent have a family member with high blood pressure.

This has led many organizations that fight hunger to promote the “food as medicine” philosophy. They have changed the types of foods they offer and have begun to work on partnerships with health-care providers. Healthy citizens lead to a healthy workforce and economy, which in turn reduces food insecurity.

Recent changes in health care now include incentives for providers to increase community engagement and tailor some services to food insecure populations. These incentives are grounded in improving patient outcomes and are included as critical components of the patient centered medical home.

But what good is a physician prescription to eat more vegetables and fruits if a patient cannot afford these foods? More and more providers are referring their patients to programs aimed at helping them get the food and resources that they need to manage their health.

Food banks are receiving increased donations of fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits. When growers have surplus produce, rather than letting it go to waste, it makes more sense to donate these valuable commodities.

Food banks also are determined to provide more whole grains in addition to fruits and vegetables, but they need more donations.

For those interested in donating food to food banks, consider some of these healthier options:

▪ Canned vegetables

▪ Canned fruit

▪ Whole-grain rice, quinoa, pasta, crackers and bread

▪ Canned beans — kidney, garbanzo, white, pinto, lentils

▪ Canned fish, salmon and tuna

The Idaho Foodbank also offers the Cooking Matters program that includes hands-on, cooking-based classes for all ages. The classes teach nutrition, food preparation and budgeting skills that people need to make lasting changes to their eating habits. Most of the recipes focus on preparing healthful meals using fresh produce.

Cooking Matters at the Store is a one-time, two-hour program that teaches participants how to identify healthy and less expensive options at their local grocery store.

These are both great educational resources that health-care providers can refer their patients to in order to promote self-management and prevention.

For more information on Cooking Matters classes or more information how you can contribute to The Idaho Foodbank, please contact: The Idaho Foodbank at 336-9643 or visit its website at and

SeAnne Safaii-Waite, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., is an assistant professor at the University of Idaho Dietetics Program and past president of the Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.