Courtney R. Lyles of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues analyzed the nutritional contents of meals served at six San Francisco-based soup kitchens -- each site served approximately 600 to 18,000 meals per week. They found the meals served were lacking in fiber and but had higher than recommended amounts of fat.
The study also reported the meals were below target levels for potassium, calcium and vitamins A and E, but cholesterol levels were at appropriate levels.
"Soup kitchens, which serve prepared, generally warm meals and a setting in which to eat, often serve as the primary food source for homeless and marginally housed people -- maximizing the nutritional value of meals is often secondary to the soup kitchen's mission of providing calories, especially given limited financial resources," the researchers wrote in the study. "The nutritional content of soup kitchen menus have been infrequently examined, but the few existing studies suggest that soup kitchens are inconsistently able to provide nutritionally balanced and healthful meals."
The researchers said they recognized soup kitchens often rely on community funding and food donations when preparing their meals, but they said their study might help spur the development of nutrition content standards for free meals served at soup kitchens.
The findings were published in Preventing Chronic Disease.