National Nutrition Month: Eating Healthy in a Food Desert

On March 4, 2024
In Blog

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual campaign that “focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ( This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table,” which “addresses the farm-to-fork aspect of nutrition,” including “food production and distribution, navigating grocery stores and farmers markets, and food safety and storage practices” at home. But what happens when you live in a food desert? 

Verywell Health defines a food desert as “residential areas with poor access to affordable, healthy food” and notes that “more than 13.5 million people in the United States live in one.” In eastern Pennsylvania, Chester County is home to some of the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods in the state. Both the city of Coatesville and West Chester Borough, located in Chester County, are federally designated food deserts. In addition, many area residents use public assistance to purchase food. Without a means of transportation or the ability to afford rising food prices, acquiring fresh, healthy ingredients can be a challenge. With that said, nutritious, healthy eating on a limited budget is still possible.

When Farm-to-Fork is Not an Option

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that “canned foods can be just as nutritious as fresh and frozen foods because canning preserves many nutrients.” Stocking the kitchen with canned fruits and vegetables, picked at the peak of freshness, can be a convenient, affordable, and delicious way to incorporate more healthy produce into your daily diet. The same holds true for canned soups, canned beans, canned meats, canned fish, and many additional foods with a long shelf-life, like dried pasta, rice and other whole grains, dried beans, and peanut butter. However, when shopping for canned goods, it is important to stick to products that are low in sodium. Always read nutrition labels or look for the American Heart Association symbol to help ensure it’s a healthy choice!

Community-Based Solutions

Community-based solutions are one of the most impactful ways to address food insecurity and other inequitable social determinants of health. The Chester County Food Bank, for example, distributes “more than 3.5 million pounds of food annually to neighbors with limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” This includes filling “over 1,200 fruit and vegetable ‘prescriptions’ each year.” More information can be found here

The Alliance for Health Equity (or the Alliance) is also leading positive, community-driven change by “empowering people in the places where they live, lifting their voices, and building their power to shape systems, services, and programs they need the most.” By working in partnership with the community, as well as corporate, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic sectors, we are helping to ensure the ability of the Greater Coatesville community to thrive. For more information about our mission, visit our website, get involved, or click here to make a donation. 

The Alliance for Health Equity (formerly Brandywine Health Foundation) is a philanthropic organization striving to advance a more equitable, resilient and healthy community for all residents of the Greater Coatesville area. We pursue our mission by providing grants and scholarships to local nonprofits and students that address health and economic disparities and social justice. We also build partnership programs and give voice to those often left out of community solution building to improve the overall health of their communities. 100% of contributions go directly to those in need.