Holiday Food Donations – What You Should & Shouldn’t Donate

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What to donate to food banks


The holidays are a popular time for donations to be made to food pantries. Before you start clearing out your pantry and freezer, however, it’s a good idea to see what food pantries really need.


The lists below offer some ideas for what makes a good donation and what doesn’t. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a food pantry (the place that gives families the food) and a food bank (the place that gives the pantries the food). While most food pantries will accept any kind of donations, food banks usually do not. If you have anything to donate that falls in the “shouldn’t” list below that doesn’t mean the item can’t be donated, just that you should call your local food pantry and make arrangements to drop it off.

A special thanks to my Facebook friends for helping me out with the list!

What to donate to food banks, food pantries, and family shelters


Donations that are encouraged:
-Spices (in plastic containers or metal tins)
-Small containers or packets of condiments (especially mayo!)
-Shelf-stable protein (canned meats, peanut butter, etc)
-Whole meals in a can (stew, chili, ready-to-eat soup, etc)
-Shelf-stable microwaveable meals
-Canned fruit packed in water or juice
-100% juice boxes or pouches
-Canned vegetables (low sodium is best)
-Lunch box food (raisins, fruit cups, crackers, etc.)
-Shelf-stable milk and milk alternatives
-Whole grain pasta and canned pasta sauce or tomatoes
-Microwaveable brown rice
-Microwave oatmeal
-Canned beans
-Snacks (granola bars, microwave popcorn, etc)
-Toiletries and feminine hygiene products (there is a MAJOR need for these items!)
-Canned and small, sealed bags of pet food
-Small packages of candy that won’t melt & gum (these treats go a long way to making a kid feel normal!)


TIPS: If possible donate canned food with pop-top lids. Many schools prohibit peanut products so nut butter alternatives and nut-free snacks are always a good idea!


Things the food bank may not take but the local food pantry and family shelter probably will:
-Refrigerated or frozen items
-Food close to the expiration date
-Baby food and formula
-Baby items
-Feminine products
-Baked goods
-Fresh fruits & veggies
-Food that requires a stove or oven to prepare
-Pet food


Things you shouldn’t donate
-Anything in glass
-Food that is past the sell by date (just throw it out!)
-Food that requires milk for preparation
-Open containers of spices (or anything else)
-Flour, sugar, baking supplies


Do you need some help providing food for your family? There is no shame in asking for help, I have been where you are and I know how it feels. First, hugs. Second, you can find help at these links:

Food Pantry Directory
Feeding America Food Banks
Find a Food Pantry

What to donate to food banks