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Five to Thrive: The best foods to donate to food pantries

It is not until you begin to look for food to donate to a food bank or pantry that you realize just what a wide selection of different foods there are in the world. Most people only tend to eat a very small fraction of these foods when allowed to choose for themselves. But choosing what to donate for someone else is a different story. Not everyone will like your favorite kind of bread, or appreciate the grape-jelly that you like to spread on everything you eat. It is important in this case to consider the specific needs of the people who are likely to receive the food you donate. 

There are several traits that the best kinds of food donations have in common.

  • The most important is that donated food be nutritious. People need to be able to find healthy food options, regardless of their level of food security.
  • Next, donated food should have a long shelf-life. Food that goes bad or expires quickly might not make it into the right hands (or mouths) before it becomes inedible.
  • Food should also be easily divisible. A 500 pound bag of flour is difficult to divide between families and individuals. Thus, it is far less useful than food that comes in smaller, even single-meal sized, portions.
  • Donated food should also be easy to prepare. Not everyone has easy access to a stove or oven, and those who do might not have the culinary expertise to prepare certain complicated meals. Foods that can be prepared without many additional ingredients, utensils, or complicated steps are ideal.
  • Finally, food should be delicious.

Here is a list of a few of the many foods that are ideal donations to food pantries!

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter comes in small jars, which can last on a shelf for months. It is highly nutritious, and does not require anything beyond the (admittedly difficult) opening of the jar to be ready to consume.

Canned Soup

Canned soup is exceptionally easy to prepare, and easily divisible. Nothing is as comforting (or as tasty) as a warm bowl of soup!


Pasta is easy to prepare and makes for a delectable dinner. Consider donating it alongside jars of tomato sauce, to complete the meal. 

Canned Fruits/ Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are important sources of nutrition, containing many vitamins essential for health. Canned fruits last longer than their fresh alternatives, while still being nutritious and delicious.

Dried Grains

Rice, in particular, is a valuable donation. Although it requires some preparation, it has a near-infinite shelf life and is a valuable ingredient in any number of dishes. It is a healthy compliment to many of the other foods listed here, although I wouldn’t recommend trying rice and peanut butter. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Holmes is a sophomore in high school in Cook County. For the past eight of his sixteen years, Daniel has been a 4-H club member. In this time he has cycled through many different offices within his club, the Creative Clovers. Daniel is eager to work alongside his 4-H peers to fight food insecurity in the state of Illinois. 


Informational sources:

1. Paul. “What to Donate to a Food Bank and What to Avoid.” Feeding America, 14 Jan. 2020,

2. Russell, Elizabeth. “20 Items Your Food Bank Always Needs (and a Few They Don't).” Taste of Home, Taste of Home, 25 Feb. 2022,