Determine Food Needs

By the end of this step, you will be able to plan for how much food you need and the budget and community support necessary to make it happen.

Keep in mind

It may take time to build up the number of items you can offer from each food group, that is okay!

If you start to feel overwhelmed, take a mindful moment (stretch, go for a walk, etc.) and then come back to it.

We will review ways to get started as well as tips and tricks for how to fill in the gaps you may have in your inventory.

Reflection Activity:

  1. Print a current list of your inventory and the Food Bag Guide.
  2. Compare what you serve each guest/household to the food bag guide below.
  3. Take note of where you are currently exceeding, meeting, or providing less than the suggestions.
      • For the items you are meeting/exceeding, great job!
      • For anything you are providing less than the suggestion, reflect on why. (We will share ideas for ways you may be able to increase inventory of those items and thus the number you can provide.)
  4. Looking at your list of items, note which food groups are best represented and which are missing.
  5. Review each food group and see how much variety you are offering.
  6. The goal is to offer as much variety from each food group as possible.

Food Bag Guide

Send an email to if you would like a laminated copy of the Food Bag Guide.

Are you able to shift all your food groups to choice?

If you are not able to for all food groups, you can still offer some choice by doing one or more of the following in any of the food groups:

  • If you are serving each guest two cans of green beans and 2 cans of tomatoes, could you give them a choice of 4 vegetables? (The same can be applied to fruits.)
  • If you are giving each guest a jar of peanut butter, could you give them the choice between peanut butter, beans, and tuna?
  • If you are giving each guest a box of pasta, could you offer a choice between the pasta or rice?

Keep thinking about what you could offer guests to choose from and how you can slowly expand to the whole pantry.

How much food is ideal for each person?

On average, a meal is approximately 1.2 pounds.

If you want to make sure each individual has enough food for 3 days, that would be about 9 meals.

If each individual leaves with food for 9 meals at 1.2 pounds per meal, they would have 10.8 pounds per person.

9 meals x 1.2 pounds = 10.8 pounds per person

Does that not seem realistic for your pantry at this time?

If that seems like more than you are able to provide, you could make sure to offer food for 3 main meals per person in the household.

If each individual leaves with food for 3 main meals at 1.2 pounds per meal, they would have 3.6 pounds per person.

3 meals x 1.2 pounds = 3.6 pounds per person

How much food do you need to stock?

Here are the formulas to figure out the total number of pounds needed each month for 3 meals per person or 3 days worth of food per person:

3.6 pounds per person x the number of individuals served each month.

Example: 3.6 pounds x 150 people served a month = 540 pounds of food

10.8 pounds per person x the number of individuals served each month.

Example: 10.8 pounds x 150 people served a month = 1,620 pounds of food

You now have a range you can work within that helps you know how much food a household may need to be nourished.

Do you have the ability to get and store that amount of food?

If storage is an issue, maybe you change up your shopping schedule. If budget is an issue, you could decide to give every household the same number of items to choose based on what you currently have the ability to share and over time increase the amount you offer as you get creative with some of our tips and tricks.

How do you determine the amount of food by food group?

The Food Bag Guide includes the number of items to offer from each food group based on the above formulas. On the document, you will see a chart at the bottom of the page that shares what “1 item” equals. This guide is in line with the pounds of food per meal an individual should get.

If you know how many individuals you serve each month, you can use this guide to determine the number of items from each food group you would need to have on hand.

  • The guide was created using the dietary guidelines (MyPlate) that state the number of servings an individual should get of each food group each day to ensure a balanced diet.
  • The guide includes suggestions for 9 meals or 3 days of food based on number of people in the household as well as a guide for 3 primary meals per person.
  • These are just suggestions. It is not intended to be followed exactly. Some pantries may not have the ability to supply every item, and some may be able to offer more. Be as generous as your inventory allows, especially with fruits and vegetables.

Try Our Guests Served Calculator

Are you feeling overwhelmed with all of these numbers? The worksheet below has built in formulas to do the math for you!

1. Download and save a copy.
2. Type the number of people you serve each month into the first box.
3. Add the average number of items you can offer for each food group in the column titled # of items. The range below each box is the suggested number of items based on 1-2 people, but you can choose a number out of the range.
4. The column on the right will automatically calculate approximate how many items you would need.

Guests Served Calculator

If you convert your items by weight using the equivalents at the bottom of the printable food bag guide from above, it ends up being close to the total pounds you would need if you were providing each neighbor with three days’ worth of food!

We know that was a lot of numbers. The goal is that you now have an idea of the amount of food you need to stock your choice pantry.

Next we will go over budgeting for this amount of food.

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