Nudges at food pantries make healthy choices easier

January 28, 2020

Thanks to a grant from Cargill, the Food Bank of Delaware is testing the impact of nutritional nudges in choice food pantries statewide. Choice food pantries provide clients the opportunity to choose foods that are best suited for their household versus receiving a prepacked bag or box of food. Nudges are defined by Feeding America – a national hunger-relief organization – as subtle environmental changes in a food distribution center designed to make healthy choices the easier choice. Changes could include shelf labeling, posters, signs, and meal kits assembled with ingredients and a recipe.

Amanda Frampton (pictured to left), Milford High School food pantry coordinator, says the nudges seem to have benefited the students served by the pantry located in a small closet near the school office.

The shelves are neatly stocked and labeled, very similar to what a consumer might see in a large grocery store. Bright posters illustrate healthy nutritional information, and handouts – including recipes – are prominently displayed.

Alicia Vogel, one of the Food Bank’s community nutrition educators, was instrumental in revamping the pantry, Frampton said. “She (Vogel)  helped us get organized, and the labeling really helps them [the students], It helps us set up too,” she noted.

Big, brown-bagged meal kits are stocked at eye level on shelves near the entrance. “Families like the meal kits,” said Frampton. “Convenience is a big thing.”

Frampton relies on student volunteers to assist with distribution, and also handing out the 20 backpacks – weekend meals – that go home with students. In addition, some student organizations contribute paper products or much-need items, such as can openers. :”Having this available is so nice,” Frampton added.

“Paper products are the first to go,” said Frampton, who stocks laundry detergent, cleaning products, and feminine hygiene supplies in a separate cabinet to distribute on request.

The pantry is also supported by generous civic organizations who donate coats, hats, gloves, and socks.

This pantry serves 11 families, some of which are multi-generational, and 18 homeless students, plus nearly a dozen on a watch list.  According to Feeding America, each year approximately 6.7 million youth ages 10 through 19 receive assistance from the Feeding America network – including the Food Bank of Delaware.

In fact, a recent Feeding America study indicates that teens facing food insecurity may engage in risky behaviors, and teens fear stigma associated with hunger and try to hide it as much as they can.

In Delaware, through the Cargill grant five pantries were initially selected for nudge implementation. They include: Cape Henlopen Food Pantry, Delaware State University, Lutheran Community Services Food Pantry, Joseph’s Pantry of Congregation Beth Emeth, and the Food Bank of Delaware’s Healthy Pantry Center in Newark.

The grant expanded to focus on college food pantries in phase two:  Delaware Technical Community College campuses in Newark, Wilmington, Dover, and Georgetown.

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