A food bank program to help food pantries improve healthy food choices: mixed methods evaluation of The Greater Boston Food Bank’s Healthy Pantry Program

  • Jenny Jia (Creator)
  • Rachel Burgun (Creator)
  • Alexa Reilly (Creator)
  • Ross Sonnenblick (Creator)
  • Lauren Fiechtner (Creator)
  • Rachel M. Zack (Creator)
  • Bianca C. Porneala (Creator)
  • Anne N. Thorndike (Creator)



Abstract Background The Greater Boston Food Bank’s (GBFB) Healthy Pantry Program (HPP) is an online training that teaches food pantry staff to implement behavioral nudges (e.g., traffic-light nutrition labels, choice architecture) to promote healthier client choices. This study assessed if HPP was associated with healthier food bank orders by food pantries and identified implementation facilitators and barriers. Methods This mixed methods study collected quantitative data from a matched cohort of 10 HPP food pantries and 99 matched control food pantries in eastern Massachusetts that allow clients to choose their own food, and qualitative data from structured individual interviews with 8 HPP pantry staff. A difference-in-differences analysis compared changes in percentage of pantries’ food bank orders (by weight) of foods labeled green/yellow (healthier choices) and fresh produce from baseline to 6 and 10 months between HPP and control pantries. Interviews were coded for implementation facilitators and barriers. Results Before starting HPP, green-yellow ordering was 92.0% (SD 4.9) in control and 87.4% (SD 5.4) in HPP pantries. Participation in HPP was not associated with changes in green-yellow or fresh produce ordering at 6 or 10 months. HPP implementation facilitators included HPP training being accessible (sub-themes: customizable, motivating) and compatible with client-choice values. Barriers included resource limitations (sub-themes: staff shortage, limited space) and concerns about stigmatizing client food choices with use of labels for unhealthy foods. Conclusions An online program to help pantries promote healthier client choices was not associated with changes in how much healthy food pantries ordered from the food bank, suggesting it did not substantially change client choices. Implementation challenges and high baseline healthy ordering may have influenced HPP’s effectiveness.
Date made available2023

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