For over thirty years, our Vital Bridges food pantries and Heartland Alliance Health centers have been providing healthcare and hunger solutions to our city’s most vulnerable populations. In recent years, our social workers, doctors, and dietitians have been working together to better serve those populations.
From our decades of experience, we have seen that poverty and health are forever linked and that food is medicine. Just this past year, Heartland Alliance Health has retooled our services to create medically-tailored menus for those utilizing our Vital Bridges food pantries.
“Of course, our general menu is healthy – but we really wanted to focus on hyper-tailored diets for our patrons who truly need it,” said Elizabeth Murphy, Vital Bridges Community Dietitian. “Our pantries aren’t just about providing sustenance, it’s about giving people what they need to heal.”
Vital Bridges dietitians spent the past year developing three new tailored menus for individuals with specific needs. Alongside the already-provided nonperishable and vegetarian options, our pantries now provide heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly, and renal-healthy options.
For those on the heart-healthy menu, an assortment of unsalted nuts and encouraging intake of lean proteins such as fish help participants get the ever-important omega-3 fatty acids while reducing blood pressure. Diabetes-friendly menus encourage choosing whole grains and non-starchy vegetables. For those on dialysis, the renal-menu manages phosphorous, sodium and potassium.
The menus fit under the MyPlate Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the Department of Agriculture, and work well with doctor-prescribed diets. With dozens of participants choosing medically tailored menus, we’ve found the response to be quite enthusiastic.
“Heart-healthy menu with my situation fits me right. I get swelling and other side effects from too much salt, and this has been really helpful.” said one participant.
“It’s been good, it’s easier to make the choices best for me,” said another participant, choosing the diabetes-friendly menu.
Most importantly, the pantries still provide the option to choose the food that our participants want. Whether you choose a medically tailored menu or not, the opportunity to take home what you want is still most important.
“What we hope this does is let people realize that the food they get her isn’t ‘just enough.’ We are focused on nourishing the people we serve, and we want them to feel that at both a physical and community level.”
According to Feeding America, food pantries are an integral part of the healthy-food access system – and building menus specifically for individuals managing chronic illness is the next new frontier of healthcare access. Heartland Alliance is always ready to serve those most overlooked by society – and our team was proud to lead the way in this new form of care for those facing hunger.