"What do you want for dinner tonight?"

That's a common question in my world. I can jump in my car, drive to one of the local grocery stores, grab a cart, fill it with ingredients and pay for those without much thought. It's not a stressful experience and, most of the time, is a leisurely activity. But the reality is that I'm lucky. For some people, figuring out how to get food on the table is incredibly stressful and filled with uncertainty.

According to the county health rankings for Crow Wing County, over 11 percent of residents are experiencing food insecurity, which is higher than the state's average of 10 percent. Resources like local food shelves are important to supply those residents and families with nutritious food sources. In Crow Wing County, a food shelf coalition was formed for collaboration and communication between all county food shelves. Representatives from the local food shelves, along with representatives from Second Harvest North Central Food Bank, Crow Wing Energized and University of Minnesota Extension meet monthly for learning, resources, problem-shooting and networking.

The coalition recently completed a Crow Wing County food shelf client survey, with results highlighting 72 percent of the people visiting food shelves regularly have an ongoing need/insufficient funds, with 71 percent surveyed making less than $20,000 annually.

The results shine a light on the ongoing need for healthy food options. Of those surveyed, 96 percent said they want to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to their families, but 48 percent find it difficult to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

The top five foods clients self-selected as important when they visit their food shelf are:

• Meat,

• Dairy products,

• Fresh fruits and vegetables,

• Eggs, and

• Canned fruits and vegetables.

And the foods clients get from the food shelves are vital. From the survey, 40 percent of people said half of their food comes from the food shelf and 64 percent of clients have worried about food running out in the past 12 months.

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month. As you may have noticed, there are food drives going on all around Crow Wing County this month. If you're so moved to donate, the suggested shopping list is a great place to start. Our area food shelves are able to stretch $1 much further than us. Because of their access to food banks, they are able to purchase the items their clients are in need of for a fraction of the cost. In fact, for every $1 you donate a food shelf is able to provide five meals. Five! If you prefer to make a monetary donation, donations can be given to your local food shelf directly or keep an eye out in May for Fishing for Food efforts to raise money to support food shelves in Crow Wing County.

To find out more about our local food shelves or how to get involved, contact Kalsey Stults, Crow Wing Energized health and wellness specialist, at kalsey.stults@essentiahealth.org or 218-828-7343.

Suggested shopping list

Grains

• Brown or wild rice

• Quinoa or couscous

• Wheat berries, amaranth, teff

• Steel cut or rolled oats

• Whole wheat or brown rice pastas

• Whole grain cereals

Proteins

• Canned cold-water fish: sardines, tuna, wild salmon

• Canned beans, legumes: black beans, garbanzo beans, aduki beans, kidney beans, lentils

• Nuts, seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews

• Nut butters: (natural and non-hydrogenated) almond, peanut, macadamia, or tahini butter

Fruit and vegetables

• Canned fruit; vegetables (low sodium, packed in water not syrup)

• Dried fruits, preferably with no added sugar

• Canned soups (low sodium)

• Fresh produce

Herbs and spices

• Green, white tea

• Herbs, spices: oregano, basil, black pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, dill

• Olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil

Local food shelves

Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army Food Shelf

208 S. Fifth St., Brainerd

218-829-1120

Cuyuna Range Food Shelf

302 Cross Ave., Crosby

218-546-7444

Crosslake Emergency Food Shelf

34212 County Highway 3, Crosslake

218-692-1004

Emily Area Food Shelf

20948 County Highway 1, Emily

218-746-3097

Garrison Area Care Givers Food Shelf

9535/41 Madison St., Garrison

320-692-5399

Lakes Area Food Shelf

29280 State Highway 371, Pequot Lakes

218-568-8474

Second Harvest Food Bank

2222 Cromell Drive, Grand Rapids

218-326-4420 ext 11