How The Red Cross Chooses Its Blood Donation Snacks

After giving blood, donors perk back up with an assortment of carefully selected items.

As she removed the needle from the crook of my arm, the nurse overseeing my very first blood donation said, "I hope you had a good experience, because 95% of first-time donors never give blood a second time." I can't verify that statistic (National Library of Medicine data appears to refute it), but she's certainly right that most people don't tend to incorporate blood drives into their regular routine. I do, though. I give as often as the Red Cross allows, and not because I'm some angel of mercy or even all that charitable. For me, a big part of it comes down to—what else?—the snacks.

The American Red Cross, founded in 1881, has been collecting civilians' blood a pint at a time since 1948, and donation centers hum along like a well-oiled machine. Although the human body is surprisingly good at losing roughly 10% of its blood supply within minutes, a post-donation pick-me-up helps stabilize one's blood sugar levels and provides the necessary energy boost for your body to replace its lost blood volume (a process that takes 24-48 hours). But the snack table carries other less obvious benefits, too.

Why you always get a snack at blood drives

"Having a seat, munching on a small snack and drinking water helps donors recuperate under the care of staff trained to identify and respond to adverse reactions," Red Cross spokesperson Danny Parra told The Takeout via email. If you waltz right out the door after donating, you leave behind any medical professionals who know what to do if you faint, suffer a dizzy spell, or feel nauseous after giving blood. Staying parked in a chair and working your way through a bag of Welch's Fruit Snacks while you check emails keeps you monitored by the pros just a little longer.

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Parra also suggests that the snack table functions as a gathering place for donors to socialize. While I don't often chat up my fellow blood-givers, it's true that this self-selected group of folks who took time out of their workday to get a needle stuck in their arm tends to be a pleasant bunch, flush with the satisfaction of having helped someone in need. Plus, emphasizing the social element can often encourage groups of people to snag donation time slots together, thereby increasing the amount of donations per blood drive.

Finally, it's a perk, plain and simple. "Providing tasty snacks and refreshing drinks is one of the ways we care for and show our gratitude to the 6.8 million Americans who donate blood each year," Parra said.

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On my college campus, blood donations always came with the promise of two slices of pizza per donor. Do you think anyone with the proper iron levels turned that down?

The Red Cross blood donation snack options

The pizza, I eventually found out, is not a standard offering. The Red Cross arrives with its own supply of prepackaged treats in tow, and the organization hosting the drive can layer on any other perks they want (such as Papa Johns). Because it's provided by the Red Cross itself, the post-donation snack table always seems to have the same array of options. They might vary by region, but here's what's always on offer at my Midwest-area blood drives:

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  • Bottled water
  • Sun-Maid Raisins
  • Welch's Fruit Snacks
  • Cheez-It Whole Grain
  • Chips Ahoy!
  • Snyders of Hanover Mini Pretzels
  • Cooper Street Twice Baked Cookies (Brownie Chocolate & Blueberry Lemon flavor)
  • Cooper Street Granola Bakes (Oatmeal Cranberry & Blueberry Pomegranate flavor)
  • OREO Minis
  • Nutter Butter cookies
  • Quite an assortment, right? There's always lots to choose from; I go for the Cooper Street products because they're the only snacks that feel "exotic" (aka aren't available at every single major grocery store nationwide). I asked Parra how the Red Cross decides what to stock—beyond the bottled water, of course.

    "The Red Cross strives to provide snacks that accommodate all dietary needs, including those with celiac sensitivity, by offering raisins, trail mix, and fruit snacks as gluten free options," Parra said.

    Similarly, the Cooper Street snacks are nut free and dairy free, and both the pretzels and Cheez-Its contain no sugar.

What to eat before and after blood donation

However, both preparing for and recuperating from a blood donation takes more than just the snacks provided by the Red Cross. There's a lot of guidance on what to do before, during, and after donation to ensure a seamless recovery, and much of it revolves around what to eat. Here are the broad strokes:

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  • Drink the right fluids. Avoid alcoholic drinks before your appointment, and if you can make it through the day without your morning coffee, it's best to skip that as well. These beverages can affect your heart rate, as well as displace water in your system. Meanwhile, you should be taking in an extra glass or two of water beyond what you'd normally consume; this will make your veins easier to find, sparing you any extra prods and pokes of the needle.
  • Eat a full meal. Eating iron-rich foods is preferred before a blood donation because it assists the production of hemoglobin, which delivers oxygen to your body tissue. But even if you don't have dark leafy greens and lamb chops lying around the house, there are a surprising number of foods recommended by the Red Cross that you're bound to have on hand.
  • Do it all again. Just as you prepped for your blood donation with plenty of food and excess hydration, you'll need to repeat that regimen in the 24 hours following your donation, too. During this timeframe, at least, don't try to make your body run on your typical weekday intake of Diet Coke and pretzel rods, okay?
  • If you've never donated blood, the thought of following all this guidance might be understandably daunting. But if the prospect of ducking out of work for an hour, lying on a soft surface, and listening to a phlebotomist-curated Spotify playlist isn't enough to persuade you to give blood, maybe the promise of some free chocolate biscotti will do the convincing.

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