Skip to content

Improving Nutrition in Poweshiek County One Food Box at a Time

Today, we are sharing an example of community collaboration, emphasizing a practical application of data to produce real-world solutions to policy issues. Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA), located in Grinnell, IA, partnered with DASIL to evaluate the quality of its food pantry services and determine ways to promote healthier eating among the families it serves.  This partnership allows for the investigation of data, providing the necessary concrete evidence to drive future changes in MICA’s food box policy. Seth hopes that this will inaugurate a shift to more data-driven decision-making at MICA.

Obesity and Type II Diabetes differentially affect the lower-income Americans who are the clients of MICA. This has been largely attributed to financial constraints leaving families with no choice but purchasing the most inexpensive food they can, which is frequently less nutritional. Thus the food pantry is potentially an important potential part of the solution. To learn more about the influence of income on diabetes rates, take a look at this study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or explore DASIL’s interactive visualization on factors correlating with diabetes.

Food boxes are distributed monthly to the families MICA serves, providing varying amounts of food based on family size. After a few weeks at MICA, Grinnell Corps Fellow Seth Howard approached his director about conducting a survey to evaluate the need for changes in the food boxes. The goal of the survey was twofold: to assess satisfaction with MICA services, as it had been years since the food services had been adequately evaluated, and to ascertain the demand for healthier foods, different foods, nutritional information, and cooking tips.

Seth surveyed every individual who utilized the food pantry in the month of July using a questionnaire that could be returned anonymously to a submission box.  A total of 195 household took the survey, giving a response rate of 78.9% of the 247 households served in that month. Using a 5-point Likert scale (1-Strongly Negative, 2- Somewhat Negative, 3-Neutral, 4- Somewhat Positive, 5- Strongly Positive), survey takers responded to the frequency with which they use common food box items, as well as answering some questions about what they’d like to see in future food boxes.

As the graphic below shows, overall, MICA households using the food pantry wanted to see healthier items despite being generally satisfied with the food boxes (only 6.15% reported strong or slight dissatisfaction). Providing even better, healthier options will increase satisfaction and drastically boost use of food box contents.

Would you like to receive healthier food items in the monthly box?  72% Yes, 28% No

However, the food boxes do already contain a number of highly nutritious, healthy offerings, but some healthy items like beans and carrots are among least often used.

Most and Least Used Food Box Items, Average Score; Most Used: Milk Voucher (2.52), Pasta Sauce (2.38), Cereal (2.38), Pasta (2.36), Miscellaneous Items (2.36); Least Used: Rice (1.78), Carrots (1.73), Refried Beans (1.48), Kidney Beans (1.22), Vegetarian Beans (0.86)
The average score of the most and least used items is displayed in the graph. These were calculated based on the average of their numeric score. Respondents chose from 0- Never, 1- Occasionally, 2- Often, 3- Usually.

Knowing that healthier food items in the boxes are often under-utilized, suggests a need to either replace these items with alternate healthy choices or provide more ideas for using the existing foods.

MICA is also partnering with a Grinnell Regional Medical Center nutritionist, who can help provide cooking, storing, recipe, and nutritional information to MICA families utilizing the food pantry services. Through this partnership, MICA hopes to understand what an ideal food box might look like. This may also help reduce the cultural capital barriers low-income families frequently encounter with the food they consume.

Are you interested in receiving information about nutrition and tips on how to eat healthfully on a budget? 39.74% Yes, 60.26% No Are you interested in receiving recipes and information about how to

Though the goal of this project is to improve the healthfulness of the food boxes, the majority surveyed declined nutrition tips and ideas on how to eat healthfully on a budget (60.26%). However, over 66% percent of survey takers wanted recipes and cooking tips, as well as healthier items.  Knowing this, MICA can innovate its outreach and explore new ways to help make food boxes healthier for its families. Hopefully, with this information, MICA can help families incorporate some healthy, yet unpopular items like beans and rice into their cooking arsenal to improve health and well-being.

For more information on the survey’s creation and implementation, contact Seth Howard at
For questions about the data analysis, contact Sara Sanders at

[newsman-form id=’1′]

Leave a Reply