When putting together food baskets for the needy, you need to keep in mind that everything should be nonperishable. The organization that will distribute the baskets likely won't accept fresh fruit, vegetables and baked goods. Make sure that nonperishables aren't expired or about to expire -- and that the packaging is sealed. Purchase food with the full intention of putting it in the gift basket.
Vegetables and Fruit
Canned vegetables are always welcome, both for holiday baskets and everyday donations. Basics like corn, peas, green beans and mixed vegetables are good choices, as are diced tomatoes and tomato sauce to serve with pasta. Include canned peaches, pineapple, fruit cocktail and canned juices as well.
Meat and Protein
Many nonperishable, high-protein foods come in cans -- like tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, chicken, chili, baked beans, red beans, soups and stews. Peanut butter -- another nonperishable protein food -- makes a healthy addition to a food basket for the needy.
Grains and Pasta
Inexpensive dry foods such as rice and pasta can go a long way, so don't overlook them. Add several boxes of macaroni and cheese dinners, spaghetti and flavored rice mixes. Hot breakfast cereals such as oatmeal, grits and porridge-type foods are healthy nonperishables. Dry cereals that you can eat with or without milk are good choices, especially if you're donating to a family with kids. Look for complete pancake mixes that require only water -- add a bottle of maple syrup.
Holiday Food and Treats
While staples are a must in a gift basket for the needy, don't forget to add some special treats. Add holiday items such as canned cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and pumpkin pie filling. Nonperishable sweets such as chocolate, hard candy and cookies are surprises that will be appreciated. Look for healthy nonperishable snacks like nuts, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, banana chips and popcorn if they're in sealed packaging.
If you know there's a baby in the family, be sure to include some jarred baby food and powdered or canned formula. Finger foods for babies such as O-shaped oat cereal and teething biscuits are also good additions.
Delaware-based Daisy Cuinn has been writing professionally since 1997, when she became the features editor for her local biweekly music newspaper. She has been a staff writer and contributor to online and offline magazines, including "What It Is!," Celebrations.com and Slashfood. Cuinn holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Temple University.