Nutritional Assessment of a Charitable Meal Program in Kalamazoo
Background: Food security is of large concern to low-income individuals. Soup kitchens aim to serve this population, but often operate under limited resources. Although each soup kitchen differs, literature shows that despite providing adequate protein and calories, they are often inadequate in fiber and micronutrients, which are obtained predominantly from fresh fruits and vegetables. These nutritional deficiencies place individuals at risk for anemia, poor wound healing, skin issues, osteoporosis, depression, and birth defects. In Kalamazoo, less is known about the nutritional quality of soup kitchen meals and the potential nutritional deficiencies in the population they serve. Study Purpose: This study aims to analyze the nutritional content of meals offered at Ministry with Community (MwC), a non-profit soup kitchen and resource center for homeless and low-income individuals in Kalamazoo. Methodology: Five meals were observed, weighed, and analyzed during a week in the summer of 2016. A nutritional assessment was completed using nutrition labels and the Nutritionix database, which pulls information from the USDA National Nutrient Database. Since MwC offered two meals per day, the observed lunches were compared to half the Recommended Dietary Allowances for a 2,000 calorie diet and 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Results: In addition to food cooked in-house from scratch, each of the lunch meals was supplemented by food donations from the local food pantry, grocery stores, fast food chains, catered events, or religious organizations with a certified kitchen. Each meal evaluated met 90% or greater of the daily caloric intake recommended for lunch. Cholesterol, vitamin A and vitamin C met daily intake requirements, but fiber, calcium, and iron were low. On days meals were supplemented by outside sources, saturated fats exceeded daily intake. Protein content was variable, but averaged 150% of the recommended daily value for lunch. Fats consistently exceeded daily intake. Sodium also exceeded daily intake, but exact values were difficult to quantify due to large batch cooking and individual addition. Micronutrients were not measured. Conclusion: Adequate caloric intake alone does not ensure a full nutrient profile. While kitchen staff and client nutrition education are of modest benefit, limited resources and seasonal donations are the true drivers of nutrient content. Further research in this population is warranted to understand the long term health impacts for clients, especially for those with different nutritional needs such as children or pregnant women.