And what they really need.

Maggie Burch
November 7, 2018
Steve Debenport/Getty Images

As we finalize Thanksgiving menus and prepare our grocery lists, it’s important to remember those who won’t be indulging in a feast this Thanksgiving—or any other day for that matter. There are over 40 million Americans who are food insecure, according to Feeding America. And this isn’t a far-off problem we can try to ignore: The majority of Southern states have a higher percentage of food insecurity than the national average. Luckily, there is plenty we can do to help solve America’s hunger problem, and one of the best ways to make a difference is by supporting your local food bank.

There are three impactful ways you can give back to your local food banks: by donating actual food that they will then distribute to those in need, by volunteering your time to help support their day-to-day operations, and by donating money to help fill in the gaps where they need it most.

When it comes to donating food, you might not be sure what types of goods are most needed and most appreciated. You can always contact your local food bank to ask about their specific needs but here are several categories that are almost always guaranteed to be good choices to donate:

Canned fish, meats (like chicken or turkey), and beans

Non-perishable protein sources like these are always in need at food banks, since they’re filling and can be easily turned into a meal with only a couple other ingredients.

Canned vegetables

When fresh vegetables aren’t readily available, those canned in a low-sodium liquid or water are the next best thing. They’re vitamin- and nutrient-rich, which is important when many people who are food insecure end up relying on unhealthy, processed foods.

Whole wheat grains

Pasta, rice, and quinoa are cheap to purchase and go a long way in filling out meals. Also, sugar-free cereal, granola, and crackers make for healthy snacks and breakfasts.

Nuts and peanut butter

Nuts are often a pricier grocery item, which makes them harder for food banks to source, but because of their high protein content, they’re a useful and appreciated food to donate.

WATCH: This Teen Gardener Has Fed Thousands With Fresh Vegetables

Cooking essentials

Extraneous groceries like olive oil and herbs may not be what you think of when you consider which foods to donate, but they certainly are crucial to preparing diversely flavorful meals.

Here’s What Not to Donate

It’s best to skip any junk food, candy, or soda, even if it is non-perishable. Food banks aim to promote healthful eating among those they serve, so they’d much rather receive items like those listed above. It also can be easy to do a sweep of your pantry and throw any older items in your donate box, but if they’re far past their best-by date or the container is dented or damaged in any way, the food bank might pass on them anyway. It’s best to go out and buy fresher, high-quality foods to donate to ensure your donation makes the difference you want it to.