Do Food Pantry Environments Encourage Healthy Food Choices?

In *All, Nutrition & Health by Ag is America

Many individuals who struggle with food insecurity rely heavily on food pantries to feed themselves and their families. In fact, food pantry environments provide over 46.5 million people in the United States with food every year. However, these same food pantries may not be providing the heathiest options, and the University of Illinois wants to change that. They are working on improvements to the consumer nutrition environment of food pantries—placement of items, food choices, freshness, availability of nutritional information, etc. These changes can help individuals make healthier and smarter food choices.

In a research study, led by Cassandra Nikolaus, a doctoral candidate in human nutrition at U of I, researchers introduced a new tool for food pantries to use in determining their nutrition environment. The Nutrition Environment Food Pantry Assessment Tool (NEFPAT) is a checklist of observations about the food pantry that a trained assessor can use to recommend improvements. She says that tool will help the pantry reform their environment that allows individuals to choose healthier options, and be able easily prepare them to feed their families. A recommendation she suggests is putting items that make a meal together, like noodles with spaghetti sauce, and adding vegetables nearby. That way, individuals are more likely to grab those things to make a complete and balanced meal.

Nikolaus says they are using the tool in 27 pantries across Illinois. They will continue to investigate how they can improve the tool, and hope to share it with others doing similar work.

If you would like to learn more about this tool, read more here.

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