OAKLAND, Calif., Nov. 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- What's more appetizing—a dented can of kidney beans or a fresh batch of butter lettuce, crisp cucumbers, and crunchy carrots?
If you're like most people, you probably find the latter to be a little more appealing. And it turns out that the lettuce, cucumbers, and carrots are likely to be considerably healthier for you too. With nutritional interests in mind, a number of organizations have been working together to support a wave of change across America's food banks, change that favors healthier, more nutritious foods to sustain the nearly 6.1 million U.S. households who annually rely on food banks and food pantries for their meals.
"Anyone in the business of fighting hunger needs to be thinking about the health of the people they serve," says Loel Solomon, Ph.D., vice president, Community Health, Kaiser Permanente. "With the economy being what it is, more and more households are looking to the emergency food system to meet their daily food needs. It's incumbent upon us not only to make sure people get fed, but that they get access to kinds of food that can help them thrive. "
Many low-income households regularly face the challenges of not knowing where their next meals are coming from, and they rely on the emergency food system of food banks and pantries to provide for their sustenance. Healthy and nutritious offerings from food banks are critical to addressing the obesity epidemic and the often unavoidable fact that cheap, highly processed foods and beverages are more readily available and accessible to families in need than are fresh, healthy, nutritious foods.
Not just meals, but healthy meals
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Kaiser Permanente have been working together over the last two years on the Healthy Options, Healthy Meals™ initiative, a collaboration that engages a select group of 12 food banks in eight of Kaiser Permanente's regions to reshape the capacity of their food banks to support healthier, more nutritious offerings for their clientele. One of the main ways these food banks are implementing change is through the development of nutrition policies. Formal, documented nutrition policies provide a blueprint for how food providers can increase the nutritional quality of their offerings.
"These 12 food banks are setting a new standard within the food banking community, paving the way for their peers to be more proactive in the fight against obesity," says Marla Feldman, director for the Healthy Options, Healthy Meals™ initiative at MAZON. "Formal, documented nutrition policies provide a concrete blueprint for how food providers can increase the nutritional quality of the foods and beverages they distribute."
Recent studies produced by the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at the University of California, Berkeley echo such findings. One such study found that food bank directors and staff were in favor of nutrition policies in their food banks, but that few of them had formal, written policies to guide their decision-making. The study explained, "Formalized policies may be necessary to effectively convert good attitudes and intentions to good actions. Written policies serve to guide decisions in ambiguous situations and provide continuity when there are staff changes. Clear written policies may also make it easier for food bank personnel to deal with [food] donors whose interest in nutrition is not evident."
Capital Area Food Bank: A Success Story
This year on Food Day, a nationwide celebration aimed at galvanizing the sustainable food movement that took place on October 24, leaders from the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) and its community partners gathered in a modern kitchen classroom at the CAFB's brand new facility on Puerto Rico Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C. to showcase the work they've been doing to address hunger and nutrition in their community. The CAFB is the largest, public non-profit hunger and nutrition education resource in the Washington D.C. Metro Area.
CAFB's expansive new facility is the size of two large football fields. It spans 123,000 square feet and includes increased refrigerator and freezer space to store fresh foods, new classrooms, and commercial and teaching kitchens to hold nutrition education and cooking classes. Such enhancements make fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods more of the norm, enhancing the health of food bank clientele.
"We want to elevate the idea of a food bank from a dented can thrown in a box to nutritious, fresh food offered along with education and awareness about healthy eating," explains Jodi Balis, a registered dietician with CAFB. Balis goes on to highlight how CAFB's partnership with MAZON through the Healthy Options, Healthy Meals™ program has aided the food bank in placing a more concerted focus on nutrition and education.
"The relationship with MAZON has been transformative. They've been truly invaluable in putting all this together. The peer learning, technical assistance, and one-on-one support MAZON provided was instrumental in helping us shape nutrition policies that ultimately change the kinds of foods we procure and the ways we engage the community in healthier eating."
 USDA. Coleman-Jensen, A., Nord, M., Andrews, M., & Carlson, S. Household Food Security in the United States in 2011.
 Webb, Campbell, Ross, Crawford. Atkins Center for Weight and Health at University of California, Berkeley. Improving the Nutritional Quality of Foods Distributed to Lower-Income Families through Emergency Food Services: A study of nutrition-related policies and practices of food banks and food pantries. May 2012.
Michelle Stuffman, Director of Communications for MAZON:
firstname.lastname@example.org, 310.442.0020 x103
Marla Feldman, Healthy Options Healthy Meals program director:
email@example.com, 310.442.0020 x112