Can Giving Clients a Choice in Food Selection Help to Meet Their Nutritional Needs?: Investigating a Novel Food Bank Approach for Asylum Seekers


The aim of this research was to investigate whether a foodbank working directly with people seeking asylum and incorporating client choice, located in Melbourne Australia, can meet the nutritional requirements of asylum seekers. A structured process of direct observation was used to document each item selected from the foodbank in a single basket. The food baskets of 116 asylum seekers, all over the age of 18, who were wholly reliant on the foodbank were analysed for nutritional content. Analysis revealed that an average basket was deficient in almost all micronutrients including vitamins A, C, D and E, folate, calcium and zinc. Baskets were found to have higher than recommended levels of sodium and fat. Despite the foodbank allowing clients to individually select the food they wish to consume, the food baskets remained nutritionally inadequate. This may be due the structure of the foodbank, the nature of relying on community donations of food and complexities surrounding healthy food choice among asylum seekers. Providing choice around food acquisition is one way to promote dignity in the refugee determination process; however, this may not be the best way to provide a nutritionally adequate diet. In addition to donor guidelines that highlight the need for nutritionally and culturally appropriate foods, further supplementary nutritional education may be required to encourage healthy food choices where they exist.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the ASRC for their assistance with this project.


Mukoya, McKay, and Dunn contributed to the conception and design of the study. Mukoya and McKay contributed to the analysis and interpretation of the data. Mukoya, McKay, and Dunn contributed to the drafting of the paper. All authors have critically reviewed the paper’s content and have approved of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Fiona H. McKay.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


A small amount of funding was received from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

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Mukoya, M.N., McKay, F.H. & Dunn, M. Can Giving Clients a Choice in Food Selection Help to Meet Their Nutritional Needs?: Investigating a Novel Food Bank Approach for Asylum Seekers. Int. Migration & Integration 18, 981–991 (2017).

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  • Foodbank
  • Food insecurity
  • Nutrition
  • Refugee
  • Asylum seeker