Improving Food & Nutrition Insecurity for Customers
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
The COVID pandemic has impacted our world and that of our customers in so many ways. One significant change is the increase in food and nutrition insecurity. This article explores the actions that retail dietitians can take to support food insecure shoppers as shared in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation’s recent webinar - Improving Food and Nutrition Security in America: An Opportunity for Food Retail Dietitians.
- Seek to understand and learn. During consults and other shopper interactions ask critical questions regarding access to needed food. Understand what barriers consumers may be dealing with so you can offer resources. An inadequate food budget, lack of transportation, technology challenges, time/work, knowledge and shame can all be issues. Pay special attention to single mothers, veterans, the elderly, and those that are disabled. If you are doing client consults, be sure to code for food insecurity if identified.
- Be aware of pharmacy concerns. Many food insecure shoppers are making trade-offs between food and other basic needs like medications. They may be skipping prescriptions, taking less, or are delaying med refills. In addition, individuals may not be purchasing the proper foods they need to help them manage an existing disease state. If your stores have pharmacies, consider working together to help identify shoppers in need.
- Partner with food access resources. If able, help consumers get access to food assistance. These services can include SNAP, WIC, the National School Lunch Program, or the Summer Food Service Program. Ensuring eligible customer sign up for SNAP and WIC can also help drive store sales of better-for-you foods while providing needed support.
- Establish community partnerships. Think about ways you can develop creative solutions with community partners. For example, could ensure there are established bus routes to your stores from senior apartments, WIC agencies, housing authorities or other non-profits. What other barriers can you work with community groups to overcome?
- Collaborate with local health professionals and organizations. Local school guidance counselors or nurses, WIC dietitians, food banks, school food service directors and diversity directors, may all have valuable insights for reaching consumers in need. Connect with them to discuss solutions. You might also seek out local grants for providing food education and/or cooking classes in your market area.
- Involve your customers. Create a drop off food drive, institute a change round-up program, or start a fund-raiser. Many customers would welcome the chance to provide help if asked.
- Evaluate your program resources. Do you offer nutritious and affordable solutions to meet the needs of food insecure shoppers? Review your educational programming resources to ensure you are adequately addressing the needs of your budget conscious shoppers. Include easy recipes with affordable pantry staples, conduct store tours, highlight easy assemble meals with WIC approved foods, or present cooking classes at the local food bank. Share these resources with community partners and don’t forget to engage and inform your employees, some of whom may also be in need.
For more information on ways to become involved with food insecurity issues, visit The Food Dignity® Project.