Meals on Wheels serves 247 million meals to older adults each year. While these organizations are known for providing home-delivered meals to those in need, they offer much more than food.
President and CEO, Meals on Wheels America
“It’s a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that someone’s going to come and bring your meal.”
“The meal is the entree to so many other services and connections,” said Ellie Hollander, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels America, the national organization leading a network of more than 5,000 independently run local food service providers.
This nationwide network provides tailored nutrition, social connection, safety, and more. They serve adults over age 60 who struggle to access and/or prepare healthy food to eat — whether that’s due to mobility challenges or other economic or social limitations. Those interested in receiving meals need to apply with their local provider. Depending on eligibility, the meals may be free or according to a sliding scale based on one’s ability to pay.
At a time when seniors don’t always know who to trust, they know they can depend on Meals on Wheels, which has had a quality reputation for more than 50 years.
Currently, 8 out of 10 local Meals on Wheels programs are serving more meals than they did pre-pandemic and demand is only expected to grow along with the booming senior population.
The number of seniors in America is anticipated to reach 93 million in the next decade, and 118 million by 2060. Food insecurity disproportionately affects older adults of color, and that population continues to increase, too.
Meals on Wheels’ offerings aren’t one-size-fits-all, and that’s because the health and nutritional needs of meal recipients vary, especially as they age. With a belief in “food as medicine,” these community-based programs can support general well-being, address chronic illnesses, and help older adults age successfully — all by providing age- and culturally-appropriate meals that are nutrient-dense, portion-controlled, and aligned with the most up-to-date dietary guidelines.
For older adults with chronic conditions, meals tailored to meet medical needs are often available. For example, Meals on Wheels People in Portland, Oregon, offers medically tailored meals for adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), diabetes, renal disorders, and chronic heart disease.
Similarly, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the Fresh Meals on Wheels service offers texture-modified meals for people with difficulty chewing and swallowing. The Mobile Meals on Wheels of Southern Arizona in Tucson offers an extensive range of meal options, including foods that are low in sodium, sugar, and/or calories, as well as vegetarian, gluten-free, and finely chopped options.
“If the meals are not tailored to meet one’s health and nutritional needs, and if it is not appealing, they are not going to help achieve our ultimate goals — to help individuals age more safely, more healthfully, and more independently, and have the option to live in their own homes,” Hollander said.
At the same time, Meals on Wheels services help prevent expensive healthcare costs. One year of Meals on Wheels — meals, safety checks, and socialization — costs roughly the same as one day in the hospital or 10 days in a nursing home.
Meals on Wheels is focused on empowering older adults, providing a solution to hunger and loneliness, and helping them live with dignity and respect.
Volunteers are trained to look out for seniors’ well-being, including safety issues around the home, assisting with pets as needed, and connecting seniors to services in the community.
Those who receive home-delivered meals appreciate the service, with 92% saying the meals help them live independently, 85% saying the services help them feel more secure, and 77% saying it helps improve their health.
Many seniors look forward to their Meals on Wheels delivery for more than food.
“It’s a reason to get up in the morning, knowing that someone’s going to come and bring your meal,” Hollander said. “For many, it might be the only person they see all week.”
Despite its prevalence and proven success, there are still older adults that cannot be reached due to funding not keeping pace with demand. Meals on Wheels America urges that individuals donate, speak out for the needs of seniors, and volunteer their time to ensure that no senior is forgotten.