Nutrition Month may end in March, but The Food Bank of Waterloo Region keeps the focus on healthy eating

Kim Wilhelm is the interim CEO of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.Kim Wilhelm is the interim CEO of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

It’s vitally important that everyone in our community has access to healthy and nutritious food.

March marks Nutrition Month in Canada, but The Food Bank of Waterloo Region works to ensure healthy and nourishing food is available to people accessing food assistance services across Waterloo Region year-round. The fresh, frozen, and non-perishable foods distributed by The Food Bank to hamper and meal programs across the Waterloo Region support healthy growth and development for individuals and families.

Children especially need to eat balanced meals in order to focus in the classroom. Of the 40,530 people accessing food assistance in the Waterloo Region each year, about 14,000 are children. Agency partners receiving food orders from The Food Bank operate as part of the Community Food Assistance Network to provide child-friendly, nutritious food to youth. Of course every member of the family is supported through hamper and meal programs part of the network. The annual “Full Bellies. Happy Hearts.” campaign, which kicks off June 5, collects funds to sustain healthy food options for youth in shelters, after-school programming, and for distribution through hamper and meal programs.

To support people of all ages to eat well, The Food Bank has built its capacity to safely store a variety of fresh, frozen and non-perishable foods. While many associate food banks with canned and boxed goods, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region is proud that 59 per cent of the 5.3 million pounds of food distributed last year was fresh or frozen. This food is often donated generously by community partners, such as grocery stores, restaurants and farms. We’re so thankful for these donations and partnerships, which allow us to make sure everyone who needs food has access to it.

To help with nutrition and food safety, The Food Bank has an on-site dietitian, Chelsea Frey, to provide support in our facility and to agency partners on topics related to eating well and safe food handling. Chelsea also puts together weekly recipes, which are available on our web blog and Pinterest page, that offer budget-friendly and healthy meal ideas. Featured recipes use ingredients typically found in the food hampers distributed by partners in the Community Food Assistance Network.

Food insecurity and health outcomes are closely linked. Food insecure households are more likely to deal with conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. It can also be more expensive for people with these conditions, as dealing with healthy and nutritious food can cost more at the grocery store. Community donations go a long way to helping us provide healthy and nutritious food to Waterloo Region residents struggling with the rising cost of living. If you are thinking of contributing, here is a list of some of our most needed items:

• Canned/dried beans or lentils

• Canned fish

• Rice and pasta

• Healthy school snacks, like whole-grain crackers, fruit cups and low-sugar granola bars

• Powdered or shelf-stable milk

• Peanut butter

• Canned fruits and vegetables

• Spices and seasonings

• Foods that you would enjoy receiving

As always, we’re so appreciative to anyone who is able to make a food or financial donation to The Food Bank. We couldn’t do our valuable work and help keep our neighbors nourished without this generous support.

Kim Wilhelm is the interim CEO of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.