By Erin Burch, MS, RD, CDN, Project Nutritionist at Food Bank of Western New York and Sarah Stimpson, RD Nutrition Resource Manager at Food Bank of Western New York
Experts agree that Registered Dietitians (RD) are vital to improving the health of the nation, but they are also increasingly important in assisting the food insecure with their expertise at food banks across the country. Dietitians can offer food and nutrition knowledge in a variety of ways to improve the nutrition status of those requiring the services of food bank agencies. They play an essential role as members of a food bank's team. For example, they help distribute nutritionally adequate food to participants of supplemental food programs, provide nutrition education and food safety resources and act as food bank funding advocates.
One of the key roles of RDs in a food bank setting is education on topics such as nutrition, food resource management and food safety. The Food Bank of Western New York's Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables (JSY) Program is a nutrition education initiative designed to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, prevent obesity, reduce long-term chronic disease risks and create healthy habits among individuals eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly food stamps). JSY provides new and exciting ways to teach Food Bank of WNY's agency's clients how a healthy diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, can promote overall good health! Erin Burch, the JSY Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian at the Food Bank of WNY makes learning about nutrition and food safety fun and easy to understand with recipe demonstrations and interactive lesson plans. She utilizes a collection of 9 nutrition education lessons and over 100 delicious, low-cost and simple recipes. Better yet, clients are also given the opportunity to taste sample JSY's delicious recipes!
New York State is also fortunate to have funding through the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). This funding is primarily used towards nutritious foods for the Food Bank of WNY's member agencies. Sarah Stimpson, RD, is the Nutrition Resource Manager at the FBWNY and she works with the Purchasing Manager to ensure the foods purchased meet nutrition standards. Foods commonly purchased are low-sodium canned vegetables, canned fruit in juice, frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Also, local, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables are purchased throughout the year to encourage Western New Yorkers to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. This produce is also distributed at the JSY nutrition workshops to go hand in hand with the nutritious recipes that are demonstrated by Erin Burch. Sarah Stimpson also provides food safety training to staff and volunteers from the member agencies. On-site agency staff sit through Serv Safe trainings and food pantry staff receive basic food safety training.
Registered Dietitians are strong advocates for improved federal funding for feeding programs, which include the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC, National School Lunch Program and Elderly Nutrition programs. As the nationwide participation in these programs increases exponentially, it is imperative that we have adequate funding for these supplemental food programs.