Food News Nutrition

10 Best Foods to Donate To a Food Drive

foods for food drive

The holiday season is full of opportunities to give to those who can’t afford to put nourishing meals on their family’s table.

And we desperately need to take advantage of these opportunities.

Though hunger may sound like a problem of the past – since obesity is often the more visible and talked-about issue – this is far from the truth. More than 49 million Americans live in food-insecure households, and 16 million of these people are children.

What hungry families need is not the Kraft Mac & Cheese that’s been sitting at the back of our pantry for two years, or the ketchup we never got around to using. Rather, they need healthy, high-quality foods that promote good eating habits any improved overall health.

Below are some of the best foods you can donate to a food drive or food bank.

Top 10 Foods to Give to a Food Bank

1.  Canned fish and lean meats.  Canned salmon, tuna, and chicken are high in protein and provide a great base for healthy meals.

2.  Peanut butter / other nut butters.  These – or packaged nuts – are great sources of protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fat.  They’re an especially helpful donation because they’re usually too expensive for food banks to purchase in sufficient quantities.

3.  Healthy soups and stews.  Look for low-sodium, organic, and natural brands of canned soup or stew.  These provide needed nutrients and a way for families with limited resources to sit down to a healthy family meal.

4.  Whole grain breakfast cereals.  Here are some cereal guidelines, so you can make sure you’re donating whole grain, high fiber, low sugar cereals.  Hot cereals – like oatmeal, oat bran, muesli, etc – are also great choices.  Think about what you’d want your own kids to eat for breakfast, and buy that.

5.  Canned or dried beans.  These are another great source of protein and fiber, and can be used in a wide variety of meals.

6.  Pasta sauce and canned tomatoes.  Other canned veggies are OK too, but not always tasty.  Marinara sauce and canned tomatoes can be combined with a package of dry pasta and/or canned meat & frozen veggie for a quick, healthy, inexpensive meal.

7.  Shelf-stable milk.  Powdered milk (dry), boxed milk, or even canned evaporated skim milk provide much-needed calcium and protein, and replace other less-healthy beverage choices.

8. Baby food. Be it dehydrated, jarred or baby food in pouches, babies and toddlers need these foods to get proper nourishment and to promote better long-term eating habits.

9. Whole grains. Quinoa, bulgur, barley, wild or brown rice, and other nutrient-rich “intact” grains provide fiber, protein and important vitamins. They’re also easy to cook alongside beans for a satisfying, balanced meal.

10. Canned vegetables. Though they don’t taste exactly like fresh, canned veggies are an important source of nutrition when fresh veggies and fruits are not available. Look for low-sodium vegetables and low-sugar fruits whenever possible.

More than anything, it’s important to donate what you would like to eat or serve your family.  People who need help from food banks appreciate good, healthy food as much as the next person!

Hunger statistics provided by Feeding America. Find a food bank in your area on the Feeding America website.


  • Dietitian Jess
    December 3, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Really really love this post- I would never donate something I wouldnt want to eat myself and these are all great healthy items, definitely makes a difference for those in need and hopefully turns them onto some new healthy foods 🙂

  • christa gadola
    December 3, 2014 at 8:23 pm

    i LOVE this post. i’m guilty of grabbing cans and/or boxed mac and cheese from my pantry to donate to food drives. some food is better than no food, right? well, not really. healthy food is important. nutritious food makes a difference. food that packs-a-punch – high in protein and taste – fills people bellies. duh! this makes sense. but now i’m more excited to head to trader joe’s and buy some quality food for folks less fortunate than me. this is a great guide.

  • Amelia Winslow
    December 4, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I’m happy you found this helpful! Love that you’ll be making a special trip to get yummy groceries for donation.

  • Amelia Winslow
    December 4, 2014 at 11:42 am

    That’s a great point – introducing new healthy foods that recipients may try and enjoy!

  • Hugh Jazz
    April 9, 2018 at 7:22 am

    Actually Some food is better than no food. Unhealthy is better than starving

  • Amelia Winslow
    May 4, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    Yes, to an extent. But, many “hungry” people in the U.S. have access to low-nutrient, high-calorie food, but not adequate nutritious food. The purpose of this post was to encourage donors to give high quality food to food drives, not old cans/boxes of junk food from the back of their pantry. A box of jello or high-fructose corn syrup-sweetened canned fruit may be “food” but these won’t promote health to the same extent beans, nuts, and whole grains will, when paired with fresh foods when possible.

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