Canadian Journal of Public Health

, Volume 98, Issue 1, pp 17–20 | Cite as

Can Food Banks Sustain Nutrient Requirements?

A Case Study in Southwestern Ontario
  • Jennifer D. IrwinEmail author
  • Victor K. Ng
  • Timothy J. Rush
  • Cuong Nguyen
  • Meizi He



Concerns about adequate food supply is a mounting problem in Canada, making food bank visits a necessity for over 820,000 Canadians.1 Given this reliance, the purpose of this study was to compare contents of food hampers with Canadian guidelines, at a large urban food bank in Southwestern Ontario that intends to provide 3 days worth of food per person.


Thirty hampers of each available size (for 1–6 people) were sampled (N = 180). Food items were recorded and analyzed for caloric value, food group, and macro- and micro-nutrient values. Results were compared to Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.


99% of hampers did not provide 3 days worth of nutrients. Grains and cereals met the lower range of Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, and fruits and vegetables, meats and alternatives, and dairy products were below recommended levels, as were numerous vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, B12, C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Carbohydrates were slightly above recommended DRI, and energy from fat and protein scarcely met the minimums recommended. Hampers contained 1.6 days worth of energy per person.


The energy available per person was below recommendations for most Canadians. Nutrients missing from the hampers can come from fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats and alternatives. However, many low-income families have limited finances to purchase these foods which are relatively more expensive than processed foods. Encouraging more perishable food donations and storage facilities to maximize the nutritional intake for clients is imperative.

MeSH terms

Food supply nutrition social welfare 



Les problèmes de disponibilité alimentaire sont de plus en plus préoccupants au Canada, et la fréquentation des banques d’alimentation est devenue une nécessité pour plus de 820 000 Canadiens1. Comme ces banques jouent un rôle essentiel, nous avons voulu comparer aux directives canadiennes le contenu des paniers alimentaires distribués dans une grande banque d’alimentation d’une ville du sud-ouest de l’Ontario, censés nourrir une personne pendant trois jours.


Nous avons étudié un échantillon de 30 paniers de chaque taille disponible (pour 1 à 6 personnes) (n=180). Les articles alimentaires ont été notés, et nous en avons analysé le nombre de calories, le groupe d’aliments et la valeur en macro- et en micronutriments. Les résultats ont été comparés aux Apports nutritionnels de référence (ANREF) et au Guide alimentaire canadien pour manger sainement.


99 % des paniers ne contenaient pas l’équivalent de trois jours d’éléments nutritifs. Les produits céréaliers correspondaient au nombre minimum de portions recommandées dans le Guide alimentaire canadien, et les légumes et fruits, les viandes et substituts et les produits laitiers étaient en deçà des niveaux recommandés, tout comme bon nombre de vitamines et de minéraux, dont les vitamines A, D, B12 et C, la riboflavine, la niacine, le calcium, le magnésium et le zinc. Les glucides étaient légèrement au-dessus des ANREF recommandés, et les apports énergétiques provenant des matières grasses et des protéines atteignaient à peine les minimums recommandés. Les paniers contenaient un apport énergétique de 1,6 jour par personne.


L’apport énergétique disponible par personne était inférieur aux recommandations qui valent pour la plupart des Canadiens. Les nutriments manquants dans les paniers se trouvent dans les fruits frais, les légumes, les produits laitiers et les viandes et substituts. Cependant, beaucoup de familles à faible revenu n’ont pas les moyens d’acheter ces aliments, qui sont relativement plus chers que les aliments transformés. Il faut absolument encourager davantage les dons d’aliments périssables et les installations de stockage connexes, afin de maximiser les apports nutritionnels des clients des banques alimentaires.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Canadian Association of Food Banks. Time for Action: HungerCount 2005. Toronto, ON. Available online at: (Accessed May 23, 2006).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ledrou I, Gervais J. Food insecurity. Health Reports 2005;16(3):47–51. Statistics Canada.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Che J, Chen J. Food insecurity in Canadian households. Health Reports 2001;12(4):11–21. Statistics Canada Catalogue #82-003-XIE.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dietitians of Canada. Individual and household food insecurity in Canada: Position of Dietitians of Canada, 2005.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Skalicky A, Meyers AF, Adams WG, Yang Z, Cook JT, Frank, DA. Child food insecurity and iron deficiency anemia in low-income infants and toddlers in the United States. Matern Child Health J 2005;9:1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Tarasuk V. A critical examination of communitybased responses to household food insecurity in Canada. Health Educ Behav 2001;28(4):487–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tarasuk VS, Beaton, GH. Household food insecurity and hunger among families using food banks. Can J Public Health 1999;90(2):109–13.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Teron AC, Tarasuk, VS. Charitable food assistance: What are food bank users receiving? Can J Public Health 1999;90(6):382–84.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Tarasuk V, Eakin, JM. Charitable food assistance as symbolic gesture: An ethnographic study of food banks in Ontario. Soc Sci Med 2003;56(7):1505–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Tarasuk V, Eakin, JM. Food assistance through “surplus” food: Insights from an ethnographic study of food banks. Agriculture and Human Values 2005;22:177–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hobbs K, MacEachern W, McIvor A, Turner S. Waste of a nation: Poor people speak out about charity. Can Rev Social Policy 1993;31:94–104.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Kennedy A, Sheeshka J, Smedmor L. Enhancing food security: A demonstration support program for emergency food centre providers. Can J Diet Prac Res 1992;53:284–87.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids. Washington, DC: National Academic Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Health Canada, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. 1997. Catalogue # H39-252/1992E.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kirkpatrick S, Tarasuk V. The relationship between low income and household food expenditure patterns in Canada. Public Health Nutr 2003;6(6):589–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Canadian Public Health Association 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer D. Irwin
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Victor K. Ng
    • 1
  • Timothy J. Rush
    • 1
  • Cuong Nguyen
    • 1
  • Meizi He
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Health SciencesUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Human EcologyBrescia University CollegeLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations