How to Give the Gift of Food During the Holiday Season

As the sounds of Christmas carols fill the streets and as busy shoppers grab last-minute Christmas and Hanukkah gifts for loved ones, many of us take time to reflect on our blessings and to find ways to express our thankfulness through acts of service. As someone who wholeheartedly believes in the power of nutrition, I am a huge fan of helping others through nourishment.

Because some of my favorite holiday memories include inventing new cookie recipes, whipping up festive meals with my kids, and sitting around a beautiful holiday table with friends and family, I consider food to be the perfect symbol of holiday gratitude.

More than 42 million people in America are food insecure, so I’ve pulled together a list of ways that we can use food to serve others and to celebrate the season.

Gift on Your Own

The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year. Schedules and budgets are often tight, so finding time to volunteer in the community can seem overwhelming. Thankfully, there are several easy, meaningful (and time efficient) ways to show others you care:

  • Know a family in need down the street? Whip up a surprise lunch or dinner. My Holiday Lasagna is festive and kid-friendly! Need dessert? My Slow Cooker Chocolate Banana Bread is delicious and serves up to 16!
  • As you head to the store to do your own holiday shopping, simply fill up an extra bag of groceries for someone else. Many stores even have organized campaigns so that shoppers know exactly what to buy. If you’re on your own, choose healthy, non-perishable items, such as whole grain pasta, low-sodium canned vegetables, dried beans and nuts. Also throw in a few pieces of fresh produce for them to enjoy right away!

    Gift in Your Community

    I’m sure you’ve heard the many perks of shopping local… well, I’m also a huge fan of serving local. Getting involved in your own community helps you to develop a deeper connection with other members. All it takes is stepping out your front door (or opening up your computer) to help in the following ways:

    • Ask your local church, synagogue or other place of worship if they have any internal organizations for feeding families in need. Sign up and get involved.
    • Search online for your nearest homeless shelter, and help them dish out a holiday meal.
    • Visit the website for your state’s hunger relief organization, and see how you might serve them.

    Gift Across the Country

    Large, national organizations have served Americans for decades. They gather donations and provide countless warm meals to deserving families. In recent years, food banks that work under these large organizations have focused on improving the health of the food that they distribute. A 2012 study found that almost half of all food banks have standards for the foods that they distribute. Thanks to these efforts, these associations are specifically focusing on giving out less candy and few sugary drinks—go food banks! If you want to get involved in a larger cause, here are some of the organizations that can use your compassionate heart:

    • Feeding America is a nationwide organization that is present in all 50 states. They manage approximately 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. Their website will help direct you to a nearby food bank.
    • Did you know that the Salvation Army serves over 56 million meals annually? One of the best ways to get involved with the Salvation Army is by committing to donate (either through a one-time gift or repeated donations).
    • Meals on Wheels America delivers hot and frozen meals to seniors in need. It operates in nearly every community in the United States, as its mission is carried out by approximately 5,000 independently run organizations. My mom was a volunteer with Meals on Wheels for many years, and she consistently sang its praises! Volunteer to deliver meals, or donate to their mission.

    Today, take a moment to remember your favorite holiday food memory.

    By giving your time and energy to people in need, you can help others develop their own delicious remembrances—whether it’s through a meal, a bag of groceries or a generous donation.

    Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to you all!

    By Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks.

    Sources:

    ChangeLab Solutions (2014). Banking on health: Improving healthy beverage & nutrition standards in food banks. CA4Health.

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