Date of Award

Summer 8-23-2019

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Food Science and Human Nutrition


Mary Ellen Camire

Second Committee Member

Kathryn Yerxa

Third Committee Member

Kathleen Savoie


Food coping strategies are strategies adopted by individuals in order to obtain enough food for themselves and their family. Food coping strategies can range from using coupons (couponing) and buying in bulk to skipping meals and stealing food. Although not all strategies are considered to be high risk, all strategies should be accounted for so that nutrition education programming caters to strategies that individuals are employing. This topic has not been widely researched in the United States. The purpose of this study was to identify common food coping strategies of food pantry clients across nine counties in Maine, explore identified behaviors related to risky coping strategies through focus group discussions, and make recommendations for future nutrition education programming. Common food coping strategies were identified through a survey that was developed using the Coping Strategies Index: Field Methods Manual along with prior research involving food coping strategies. The forty-six item Food Coping Survey was administered at food pantries in nine Maine counties and participants were recruited as a convenience sample at those food pantries. Survey inclusion criteria were being at least eighteen years of age and receiving food from one of the participating food pantries. A total of 566 surveys were completed. The two most common strategies were saving leftovers for another meal (reported by 93.1% of respondents) and buying generic or store-brand food items (used by 92.4%). The most common risky food coping strategies were skipping meals or not eating and eating out of date/expired food items. Focus groups were coordinated to further investigate the use of out of date/expired food. Four focus groups consisting of 59 total food pantry clients were conducted in three counties in Maine. Focus group discussion topics included food pantry staple items, decisions regarding using out of date/expired food and how to tell if something has ‘gone bad,’ and where participants go to find nutrition-related information. The focus groups were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Many individuals checked the date on food items they were purchasing at the store or receiving from the pantry; however, in terms of out of date food items, many individuals said they still eat non-perishable items after their expiration date. The focus group discussions indicated that individuals would benefit from education on what to look for in both perishable and non-perishable items to decide whether or not they were still safe to eat. The information obtained from both the Food Coping Survey and the focus group discussions will inform nutrition education programs and food pantry organizations throughout the state of Maine about topics to improve food security, reduce food safety risks, and minimize food waste.

Included in

Nutrition Commons