Some people worry that that if given free access (via a client choice model pantry) to the whole range of products found at a typical Food Bank, clients may select too much unhealthy food.
A balanced diet is certainly important, and offering voluntary nutrition education or cooking resources to clients that desire them is well worth doing, as is offering as wide a range of healthy foods as a pantry can obtain from their regional food bank or similarly low-cost sources. That being said, this area of concern is often given more weight than it merits: The majority of people seeking help have been making choices about food for years, and already know what they need to maintain themselves in reasonable health. There is no reason to believe that going to a food pantry as opposed to a store will cause them to lose this knowledge – or that their being in a time of need gives us the right to impose “good” food choices on them involuntarily.
Furhermore, since most clients will only require a pantry’s assistance for a relatively short time (usually no more than a few months), or are only relying on a pantry’s assistance for part of their diet, even the most carefully designed menu is unlikely to have any significant beneficial impact on their long-term wellbeing. Rather than trying to provide families with a specific kind of help (e.g. only “healthy” food), it is better to offer them as much help as possible, thus freeing up their other food dollars to secure whatever additional foods they need on their own schedule. (The “on their own schedule” aspect of this is especially important in regard to the healthiest perishable foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables.)
A far more urgent issue is the fact that many communities are falling far short of meeting the need for non-governmental food assistance. Food that never reaches the needy has a nutritional value of nil. If the combined distribution of an area’s charities matches or exceeds the estimated need (see Chapter 1) on a sustainable basis, those charities can worry more about the nutritional merits of the food they distribute. Until that point is reached, not offering clients certain food because it is “not nutritious enough” will remain about as practical as letting a child go without a jacket in winter because the ones available are “not warm enough.”
Another thing to consider when thinking about nutrition is that food is more than simply fuel for the body – it plays important social, cultural, and emotional roles in peoples lives. You can read some stories that touch on this important point here.