Food security plays an important role in mental wellness. For children, living in a food insecure household is associated with childhood mental health problems. Experiences of hunger during childhood have serious and lasting impacts on mental health, manifesting in greater risks of lifelong challenges.
As a Master of Public Health student at the University of Saskatchewan, I want to help move the needle on food security, not only by providing these families with access to food, but equipping them with improved nutritional knowledge.
At the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre, there is a commitment to ensuring a food secure community where all people have access to safe, affordable, and nutritious food. The Learning Centre’s programs and strategic partnerships aim to address the underlying issues contributing to hunger and poverty.
Emergency nutrition is available to community members who have nowhere else to turn. The Emergency Food Basket Program helps provide two to three days of nutritious food items for families and individuals. The contents of the baskets are based solely on donations received. However, sometimes food items are returned or wasted because clients don’t like them or are unfamiliar with how to prepare the food and use the ingredients included in the hampers.
The Study Method
Originally, my main role was to assist the staff to conduct surveys that would assist in reducing food disapproval so that fewer food items would be returned. To demonstrate to clients that everything in the emergency food basket is useable, a food hamper cook-off has been planned. Questions to be answered included: How were clients using the food hamper? How much of their own money were they spending to cook food using hamper items?
When the cook-off had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, we decided to focus on developing programs that will assist in increasing client engagement. I did a literature review of what other food banks were doing for nutrition education and how they were promoting their programs. I learned the centre has an excellent nutrition program but needs to promote it more. I made the following recommendations:
- Promote the nutrition education workshops on the website: To promote food literacy and reduce food that is not accepted by clients, the nutrition program hosts a number of educational workshops for anyone interested in learning how to cook. However, the program is poorly advertised on the website and in learning materials.
- Promote success stories from the nutrition program: Clients should be asked about their level of knowledge of cooking and nutrition, and how the centre can serve them better. Success stories of clients who have learned to cook through the nutrition program need to be gathered and posted on the website. These stories will attract more funding for the nutrition program and other food bank initiatives, while improving the emergency food basket program.
- Create videos highlighting the centre’s programs: To improve client engagement for people who cannot access the in-class programs, I recommend that these programs be recorded on video or live streamed so that more people can have access.
During this work placement, I gained communication skills, interpersonal skills, and learned teamwork – skills that will help in my graduate work and future career.
Implementation of the above recommendations will give more profile to the centre’s programs which will help increase client engagement and raise funds. It is my hope through these approaches, more community members will become more “food literate”, with the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare and enjoy healthy food.
Disclaimer: Any omissions in fact or interpretation remain the sole responsibility of University of Saskatchewan. The findings do not necessarily reflect the views of Research Impact Canada, its funder The Conference Board of Canada, or its partner the Future Skills Centre.