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Guidelines for Assembling No Cook Food Bags

No Cook Food Bags

Who might need a no cook food bag? In urban areas, it might be individuals who are living in cars, shelters, hotels, or on the streets. In rural areas, recipients might be living in tents, cars, barracks in migrant camps, or in a cabin or trailer without a stove. Wherever these people are, if they are without a stove and refrigerator and do not have space to store food, they probably need a no cook food bag.

Considerations for Choosing Foods

General considerations when choosing appropriate foods for a no cook food bag are:

  • People usually have a source of clean, hot water. Public restrooms, camp grounds and city buildings have electricity that people may use to heat water. Shelters often provide microwave ovens.
  • Foods should taste good (or at least okay) when eaten cold. Cream soups and canned meat with congealed fat would not be acceptable to most people unless they were literally starving. Broth based soups and canned tuna at room temperature would be better choices.
  • People usually have a can opener and eating utensils.

Because some people will not have can opener or clean water, provide can openers and bottled water for emergencies.

Food Safety for No Cook Food Bags

If the label says "refrigerate after opening," the food is not a good choice for a no cook food bag. For example, pasteurized-processed American cheese and jars of Cheese Whiz do not require refrigeration until opened, but it is unlikely someone could eat the whole package or jar in one sitting. Many preserved meats, such as salami, fall into this category too. Read labels carefully!

Some dairy products, like yogurt and hard cheese, will keep without refrigeration for 1-2 days, depending on the storage temperature. However, only distribute small quantities that you know will be eaten within two days.

Shelf-stable microwave meals can be safely stored without refrigeration so they are suitable for no cook food bags. However, make sure the recipient has access to a microwave oven. Include canned foods. Canned food is less likely to be crushed or punctured. Also, the labels on cans can removed so that the can may be heated on a stove or over a fire as a cooking pot.

Ideas for No Cook Food Bags

Here is a list of foods to consider when you are putting together a no cook food bag. Pick and choose depending on what is available at the food bank. All items listed will keep indefinitely without refrigeration. Some items require hot water for reconstitution.

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Food Group

  • Bread
  • Crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Breakfast bars
  • Pop tarts
  • Pastry
  • Cold cereals
  • Instant hot cereals
  • Ramen noodles
  • Canned noodle soups
  • Instant noodle soups

Vegetable Food Group

  • Vegetable soups
  • Tomato soups
  • Small cans tomato, carrot, or V-8 juice

Fruit Food Group

  • Small cans of fruit
  • Boxed fruit juices
  • Small cans of fruit juice

Meat, Poultry, Dry Beans and Nuts Food Group

  • Canned tuna, salmon, clams, shrimp, sardines, pork and beans, chili, stew, ravioli, spaghetti, meat spreads, or chicken (Pack single servings as these products require refrigeration after opening.)
  • Peanut butter
  • Shelled nuts
  • Jerky
  • Dried meat sticks (as long as they do not require refrigeration after opening)

Milk and Dairy Food Group

  • Powdered milk
  • Cocoa mix
  • Canned evaporated mild
  • Shelf-stable boxes of milk
  • Snack puddings
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Snack packages of cheese and crackers

Other foods (little nutritional value)

  • Instant coffee
  • Tea bags
  • Bouillon
  • Candy or Chips
  • Snack Jello
  • Sugar

SOURCE:  Adapted by Angela Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Education Specialist, Clemson University from guidelines developed by:

Washington State University Cooperative Extension
Food Bank Special Dietary Needs Project
612 Smith Tower, 506 Second Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98104