Swapping tea bags for eggs - not a decision most of us have to make when budgeting for our weekly grocery shop.

But when you are helping feed 16,429 people in 12 months, each food item has to be justified.

It is a near-constant juggling act for the Tauranga Community Foodbank, which aims to make its food parcels healthy, nutritious and user friendly as possible.

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If an essential food item is not donated, it needs to be bought.

Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the organisation was always adapting and re-considering where it should spend.

"Once upon a time, we used to buy tea bags, now we do not. We've spent that money on eggs. So we're always looking at ways to improve the contents."

Eggs are high in protein, are a versatile ingredient when cooking or baking, and are affordable.

Each food parcel comes with a list of meal ideas that can be made with the included items.

The foodbank, with school lunches in mind, has doubled the amount of sandwich spreads they are giving in food parcels, and has also increased fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products.

"The point is that we're giving food to people that's useful and as good for you as can be," Goodwin said.

Volunteer Sue van Os, also a member of the foodbank's board of trustees, has been helping make decisions about what goes in food parcels for years.

She said the foodbank tried to make its parcels as healthy as possible.

Providing specific food items is also important as some of the people needing help have illnesses such as coeliac disease (cannot eat gluten), heart disease or diabetes, which require a special diet.

"We also have people who for cultural and religious reasons are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions," Van Os said.

Tauranga Community Foodbank volunteer and board member Sue van Os says the organisation aims to make its food parcels as healthy as possible. Photo/John Borren
Tauranga Community Foodbank volunteer and board member Sue van Os says the organisation aims to make its food parcels as healthy as possible. Photo/John Borren

A Foodbank having gluten-free options available may seem indulgent to some, but Coeliac New Zealand says it is a necessity and not a luxury.

General manager Dana Alexander said many families struggled to maintain the strict 100 per cent gluten-free diet required by coeliacs.

"For people diagnosed with coeliac disease or those with a gluten sensitivity, eating gluten-free can be a struggle particularly for families on a limited income, or where they have traditionally relied on readymade processed foods."

She said it could be stressful for people who could not afford gluten-free packaged items or those who had basic cooking skills.

"The alternative for coeliacs who cannot afford to adhere to the strict gluten-free diet can be diarrhoea, cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting to weight loss, fatigue weakness and lethargy with long term health issues such as osteoporosis and some bowel cancers."

Alexander said an estimated 60,000-70,000 New Zealanders had coeliac disease.

That is just one of the groups the foodbank has to consider when deciding what to buy for its food parcels.

Maybe this Christmas, the people of Tauranga can make it a little bit easier for them by donating.

The facts
- The Tauranga Community Foodbank helped feed 16,429 people in the 12 months ended October 2017.
- Of those people, 9362 were under the age of 18 and 7067 were over 18.
- The foodbank issued 5459 food parcels in those 12 months - 15 per cent more than the same period last year.