Fighting Military Food Insecurity This Holiday Season

Written by Jeanine Rickman


With the holidays quickly approaching, many families are worried about the rising cost of food. Not being able to adequately feed your family is frustrating, stressful, and sometimes scary. The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) reports that nearly 40% of military families have faced food insecurity since the pandemic. Due to lower income rates, junior enlisted service members and their families are impacted the most.. Food insecurity is one of the many unique challenges and hardships military life brings that the ASYMCA hopes to alleviate, especially among junior enlisted.


ASYMCA Programs Combat Military Food Insecurity

The ASYMCA addresses the concerns of military food insecurity by providing food security services and programs that benefit military families. Giving food and gifts during the holidays and services like food pantries and organizing monthly Neighborhood Food Exchanges, are just some of the ways the ASYMCA is diligently meeting the needs of military families.

The ASYMCA also offers a special Food Assistance and Emergency Relief program, which eases the burden of inflation and food insecurity many military families are experiencing.


Making the Most of Holiday Pantry Items

Every year, in an effort to prevent military food insecurity, families of enlisted service members receive a wonderful assortment of pantry items in holiday meal boxes. Many military families in our area call them “blessing boxes” because they are so grateful for the opportunity to have a full pantry.

Military families who are in need of additional groceries can visit their local ASYMCA branch. The following locations have food distribution:

Our family has participated in several ASYMCA San Diego Neighborhood Exchange Food Distributions, and we usually receive these holiday pantry staples in every box: mashed potatoes, stuffing mix, and pumpkin puree.

It may be challenging to come up with ways to use ALL of the pantry food, especially when receiving multiples of the same items. Military families may find it even more difficult if only feeding a small group because the service member is deployed, and they are stationed far from their extended families. It also doesn’t help if you have picky eaters at home. Here are some fun, creative and resourceful ideas utilizing these pantry items that help to stretch your food budget a bit farther.


Boxed Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are a favorite in our house! Still, we don’t want to have just mashed potatoes as a side dish too often. Instead, we like to get creative and make the most of this holiday classic:

  • Try adding extra ingredients like your favorite veggies, cheese, or bacon to make fancy mashed potatoes
  • Add the instant potato flakes to soups to thicken them.
  • Make potato bread.
  • Prepare as directed but use to top dishes like shepherd’s pie or goulash
  • Make any kind of potato pancakes (also called latkes).
  • Use them to make gnocchi (this takes time, and there are many variations but it’s our favorite!).


Stuffing Mix

It may seem impossible to use those boxes of pre-seasoned stuffing mix for anything else, but this classic holiday side can be extremely versatile:

  • Use a blender or food processor to turn the stuffing mix into seasoned bread crumbs (the cornbread stuffing pairs great with fish!). You can also put the mix into a zip bag and mash with a can.
  • Consider using as topping for casserole (our favorite is turkey stuffing for some kind of turkey tetrazzini, and with creativity can also use leftover cooked turkey, gravy, and green beans).
  • Make a breakfast casserole by mixing into eggs along with any preferred veggies, cheeses, or meats and baking for a simple one pan meal
  • Use it to make 4 ingredient meatloaf
  • Take inspiration from the Italian salad panzanella and toss it into a bread salad


Canned Pumpkin Puree

Many people might be stumped figuring out what to do with an abundance of canned pureed pumpkin. Surprisingly, this is the most versatile pantry item on our list. While pumpkin pies, lattes, and other sweet treats may be the first things that spring to mind, we love that it can be used for many savory dishes that are equally delicious:

  • It can be substituted for pureed butternut squash in most recipes.
  • Try mixing it into mac and cheese or other pastas
  • Make pumpkin risotto
  • Prepare a lasagna and mix the pumpkin puree with ricotta or cream cheese
  • Think about incorporating it into some of your favorite breakfast items


Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Know that you are not alone! Many military families are facing food insecurity in the current economy. If your family is too far from an ASYMCA branch to benefit from its services, there are other programs that can help supply your family with access to healthy food. One way is to inquire at your command’s Military and Family Support Center for great local resources.

Calling 211 is another great service that provides referrals for specific locations near you. Some military families do qualify for food stamps (aka SNAP and CalFresh). This number can even give details on how to contact representatives to find out if families meet income guidelines for government assistance programs like SNAP. WIC is another wonderful supplemental nutrition program available to many military families.


Gifts That Keep on Giving

Grocery gift cards are a fantastic way to show appreciation to military families with meals. Consider personally giving these as gifts to military families or to programs like the ASYMCA that help meet military family needs. When possible, the ASYMCA provides grocery gift cards through the donations of generous benefactors.


Help the ASYMCA Fight Hunger

Since March 2020, the ASYMCA has distributed over 1.9 million pounds of food to military families to fight against military food insecurity. When you support the ASYMCA, you help meet the basic needs of active duty service members and their families, so that they worry less about food and can focus on mission readiness instead.


Donate Today