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A letter to the American public: What first responders really need beyond thanks

When it comes to food donations, having healthy options available can make a big difference in first responders’ choices

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Our nation’s first responders support and protect our communities in so many ways – it’s only natural to want to say “thank you!” Community members often donate treats and cookies to fire, police and EMS stations.

Of course, these donations are welcomed and enjoyed! However, much like the office break room filled with leftover cake, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. First responders work long hours, 12-24 hour-plus shifts. Like the rest of us, they often struggle to make healthy choices when tired or stressed.

Having healthy food available can make a big difference in first responders’ food choices. Dr. Jill Joyce, PhD, RD, a dietitian from OSU, completed a preliminary study of firefighter food availability. She donated fruit, veggies with hummus, trail mix and other healthy options – with one condition, the firefighters needed to move all treats and desserts to a cabinet or pantry, while leaving her healthy donations on the counter. She found that firefighters ate an additional pound of produce daily when healthy food was readily available.

First responder nutrition experts share how healthy snacking, making over your food environment and mindset fuel your body for both wellness and performance

Healthier eating can lead to better energy levels and long-term health for our first responders.

If you would like to say “thank you” to a local station, here are some healthier options to share:

  • Peanut butter
  • Fruit (clementines, apples, bananas, etc.)
  • Veggie trays
  • Pre-made salad mixes
  • Trail mix or nuts/seeds
  • Applesauce pouches (great for workouts)
  • Granola or protein bars
  • Whole grains (rice, bread, pasta, oatmeal)
  • Jerky
  • Tuna or chicken packets
  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Protein powder
  • Electrolyte packets (e.g. Liquid I.V.)

Did you know that first responders pack their food for their entire 24-hour shift or chip in out of pocket for station dinners? Dinner often costs $10 or more per day. Leftover funds fill the pantry with spices, peanut butter, condiments, etc. These options are used daily at stations and would also be welcome donations:

  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Coffee
  • Spices (eg., BBQ, Cajun, spice mixes)

Of course, this article is not intended to pressure you into donating by any means! Hopefully, you found these ideas helpful if you were planning on dropping something off.

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Megan is a registered dietitian who specializes in first responder nutrition. Megan shows first responders how to eat healthier when they don’t have time, money or energy. Megan owns RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes nationwide. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.