For the last few weeks, I’ve been volunteering at a food bank called FeedingHK to help start a cooking class. The purpose is to teach basic cooking skills and ways to prepare healthful meals with donated food. Professional chefs submit their creative recipes incorporating commonly donated foods and my role is to add nutritional tips to the wonderful recipes. My biggest concern with shelf stable products is that they may not be the most healthful. So in an effort to promote healthier pantry items, I want to share with you some of the most valuable and nutritious items that can be donated to food banks. If you’re thinking about donating food or want to start a Food Drive, I encourage you to collect the following nutritious foods.
Rice was first cultivated thousands of years ago in the area between India and China. Today, it is the most widely consumed staple food in many parts of the world-especially in Asia. Rice is low in calories, fat-free, gluten-free, sodium-free, high in protein and contains vitamins and minerals such as thiamin, niacin, folic acid, iron and selenium.
There are many forms of rice being sold at the markets. In Hong Kong, white rice is the most widely consumed type of rice. However, brown, red and black rice are gaining popularity due to their health benefits.
Brown Rice: 100% whole grain. The process that produces brown rice only removes the outer most layer called the husk, leaving the bran (fiber) and germ (vitamins and minerals) intact. This means that brown rice contains nutrients and fiber in their most natural form.
White Rice (Enriched): Since white rice is the most processed type of rice-having the bran and germ removed, synthetic micronutrients are added to “enrich” the rice. Removing the bran and germ increases the shelf life of the rice and prevents spoilage.
Black and Red Rice: Compared to brown rice, these two varieties offer higher levels of the antioxidant anthocyanin. Anthocyanins are the color pigments that give foods many of their reddish, purple, and blue color. They are also well studied antioxidants with many health benefits.
Noodles and Pasta:
Invented in China thousands of years ago, noodles are a staple food in much of the world. The most common types of noodles are made from wheat, rice, buckwheat, and mung bean.
Noodles made with wheat flour are a good source of carbohydrate, protein, iron, calcium, and fiber. Whole grain noodles will have “whole wheat flour” listed as the first ingredient on the box and include the added benefits of manganese and selenium.
- Hand-pulled noodles
- Egg Noodles
Rice noodles are a good source of manganese and selenium.
- Rice noodles
- Flat noodles (Ho Fun)
Buckwheat noodles are a good source of fiber, magnesium, copper and manganese.
Mung bean noodles are a good source of iron, thiamin, and selenium.
- Cellophane noodles
Canned Fruits, Vegetables, and Beans:
Fruits,vegetables and beans are essential for health because they provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. The long shelf life and affordability of canned products make them ideal for eating on a budget.
It’s important to note some disadvantages of canned products.
- Differences in texture, color, and taste.
- May have lower nutritional quality.
- Fruits packed in heavy syrup are high in calories when compared to fruits packed in water or juice.
- Due to the high sodium content of canned veg, people who are sodium sensitive or have high blood pressure should thoroughly wash the canned vegetable before cooking.
Canned Fish and Dried Seaweed:
Fish and Seaweeds are loaded with nutrients that are important for health such as vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Great source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium, and selenium just to name a few.
- Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids known to boost heart health, lower triglycerides, improve mood, improve memory and reduce inflammation.
- Sardines are nutritious, affordable, environmentally sustainable and versatile in recipes and low in mercury-a contaminant that can cause health problems.
- Great source of protein, vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, niacin and calcium.
- Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Nutritious, affordable, and low in mercury.
Canned Tuna Fish
- Great source of protein, niacin, vitamin B-12 and selenium.
- Many of our donated shelf stable food items are already high in sodium; it is our goal to reduce sodium where possible. Please donate unsalted (no salt) canned tuna fish.
- Tuna fish canned in water will contain fewer calories and more brain boosting omega-3 fatty acids.
- “Light” skipjack tuna fish will have less mercury.
- According to the EPA and FDA, women who may become pregnant, pregnant women and young children should limit their consumption to 12 ounces a week of fish with lower mercury, including canned “light” tuna, and no more than 6 ounces of albacore or “white” tuna.
- Great source of iodine, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iron (depending on type of seaweed).
- High in soluble fiber, the kind that turns into a gel and slows down the absorption of sugars and cholesterol in the body.
- A good source of omega-3 fatty acids that is great for the skin.
- Highly versatile in recipes.
Canola and Olive oils are a good source of vitamin E and rich in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (best for salads/do not use for cooking)
- Light Olive Oil
- Canola Oil
UHT Milk (and Dairy Alternatives):
- A good source of protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A and vitamin D
- Unsweetened soy, almond, rice, and hemp milk are great dairy alternatives for lactose intolerant individuals
Food Banks aim not only to feed the hungry, but also strive to improve the overall health of the recipients by providing high quality nutritious foods.
Please also Donate:
- Tea Bags, Coffee
- Dried Beans, Unsalted Nuts, and Seeds (Small Red Beans, Green Beans, Almonds, Peanuts, Sesame Seeds, etc)
- Dried Fruits
- Dried Mushrooms, Dried Soup Ingredients
- Miso Paste
- Dried Herbs, Spices
- Unsalted Crackers
- 100% Whole Wheat Flour
- Quick Cooking Oatmeal