Feeding America’s Backpack Program

This school year we’ve been participating in the Backpack Program. The program’s intention is to provide meals to food insecure kids during weekends and school breaks when they might not have access to enough food.

Each Friday a bag of food comes home with each of my boys. Friday’s food often looks like this :

Each bag has a boxed meal, a couple packets of oatmeal, a can of fruit ( usually applesauce or mandarin oranges), a can of veggies, a protein( either peanut butter or tuna/chicken), and a can of soup.

The program has been really helpful these past couple of months. Even though the program is centered around children getting enough food, it’s been a help to our whole family. If I had a dollar for every parent who told me they skip meals to make sure their kids eat, I’d be able to feed a whole lot of families. Programs like these usually provide food security for everyone in the household. Some of the food that comes home in the backpacks can easily be used to supplement family meals. I use the canned applesauce as a baking substitute for oil/butter or eggs when they’re in short supply. Canned veggies can be thrown into casseroles , skillet meals, or homemade soups. I use the tomato soup in rice dishes,chili,soups,and things like my own version of this Cabbage and Lentil Skillet Bake. And let’s not forget that weird pierogi casserole I made with the leftover boxed mac and cheese.

Speaking of boxed mac and cheese…

Before the Backpack Program, my kids very rarely had boxed mac and cheese. I’ve come clean before as being a bit of a food snob who had to make major adjustments with a poverty “budget”. I make THE best homemade mac and cheese but there’s no way that’s being made too much in our house these days. I had one recent weekend where I didn’t even have butter or milk for the boxed mac and cheese. I used water instead. Like this:

I am often privy to discussions among “real food” advocates. They talk about boxed mac and cheese as if it’s the worst thing you could ever feed a kid. There is a clear presentation among many that a parent feeding their kid this is not only an idiot but they don’t care at all about their child’s health. Now, I love my homemade gooey,cheesy mac and cheese but I have a real appreciation for the boxed stuff now,too. What some might consider “crappy food” is better than no food at all. With 22% of all children in the U.S. living in poverty (TWENTY TWO PERCENT!),  it’s time to stop pearl clutching over a list of ingredients or even at canned vegetables that don’t meet privileged foodie approval  and just get enough food into these children’s homes. Period.

If you’re interested in supporting programs like the Backpack Program, you can donate hereA $1 donation = 11 meals. You may also donate these items directly to a food bank:


Special thank you to Food Bank of the Southern Tier and Ithaca City School District for helping in my area to put food in low income children’s homes via the Backpack Program.

5 thoughts on “Feeding America’s Backpack Program

  1. I know this is an old post, but I’ve only just discovered your blog. I’ve been admiring your creativity in cooking with the foods you get!

    My family has used food pantries off and on for many years. A trick that I learned from a friend for those days when you have mac and cheese but no milk or butter is to use a 4oz can of tomato sauce (another food pantry staple around here!) A can of cream of chicken or mushroom soup works well, too. Add some canned peas or green beans and canned chicken or tuna (or Spam!) if you’ve got it, and you’ve got yourself a filling meal.

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