March is National Nutrition Month and Second Harvest Food Bank is raising awareness about the importance of eating a healthy, nutritious diet.

The Food Bank, which has served San Mateo and Santa Clara counties since 1974, does more than just get food out the door to hungry people. Second Harvest is focused on providing food with a high nutritional value. In fact, nearly half the food Second Harvest distributes each month is fresh produce.

“Not only do we provide fresh produce and other nutritious foods to the people we serve, we also teach people how to eat healthier and cook with the produce we provide,” Janet Leader, a registered dietitian and director of services at Second Harvest Food Bank, said in a prepared release.

In addition to providing fresh produce to pantries, soup kitchens and other food distribution sites, Second Harvest also has a Produce Mobile that provides fresh produce to people in need.

To help people understand how to cook with the fresh fruits and vegetables, Second Harvest Food Bank develops recipe tip cards for the produce it distributes. The tip cards explain the nutritional value of the items and offer serving ideas as well as a recipe. The cards are available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese.

The tip cards are so effective, Second Harvest officials say, they were selected by the California Association of Food Banks as a best-practice tool for helping clients eat better. The plan is to include the cards in a produce toolkit the CAFB is developing.

In addition, Second Harvest Food Bank has a team of nutritionists who work in the community, offering cooking demonstrations and food tastings at the pantries and shelters it serves as well as other sites where local families and individuals pick up their allotment of food. These nutritionists provide information and tips for eating healthier. They are supported by Health Ambassadors, a specially trained group of community members who speak a variety of languages and help Second Harvest provide culturally appropriate nutrition education out in the community.

“Produce and other healthy foods can be very expensive,” Leader said. “Also, many of the people we serve do not have easy access to nutritious foods because they don’t have a supermarket nearby. So it makes it even harder for these families and individuals to get the nutritious foods they need to thrive.”

To ensure that the food bank is providing healthy, nutritious food, Second Harvest developed a nutrition rating system that helps it monitor and regulate the nutritional value of the food it provides. More than 90 percent of the food Second Harvest distributes is of high nutritional value. Second Harvest also encourages donations of healthy food by highlighting “most wanted” categories during its food drives. The list contains items like canned tuna, peanut butter, and low-sugar cereals. A monetary donation is helpful because with Second Harvest’s purchasing ability, the Food Bank can turn one dollar into two nutritious meals.

— from staff reports

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