To older adults, being able to eat at home can mean the difference between staying in their own homes as they age, or moving to a nursing home or assisted living facility.  If food preparation has become too difficult for an aging, but otherwise independent friend or family member, you can get help from local community agencies.

The Older Americans Act, passed in 1965, provides funding for a national network of state agencies that provide food and nutrition services and other types of support for older adults in this country.  Researchers at Brown University found that the more individual states use this funding to provide home-delivered meals, the more otherwise-independent adults can stay in their own homes.

Benefits of Meal Delivery Services

Volunteers who deliver meals not only provide food but also help monitor their clients' conditions simply by ringing the doorbell and checking in with them throughout the week. A daily chat with a volunteer can also help elderly clients deal with the feelings of loneliness, depression, and isolation that often occur with aging.

Studies published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging and the Journal of the American Dietetic Association also found that older men and women who took advantage of lunchtime delivery programs were better nourished than those who didn't, and that expanding delivery services to include both breakfast and lunch improves both nutritional well-being and mental outlook even further. There are several types of services you can consider to make sure your elderly friend or family member has these advantages.

  • Meals-on-Wheels (MOW) delivers hot meals to any homebound adult who cannot travel to a community meal service. Even if your elderly loved one lives with you, MOW will deliver hot, cooked meals if you cannot be there during the day to prepare their food. Volunteers deliver hot meals Monday through Friday and may also provide precooked meals that can be reheated over the weekend. Contributions to help cover the cost of meals are encouraged but not required.
  • Personal shoppers can help by delivering groceries, including prepared foods, to your door on a regular basis. Try to make an arrangement with a neighbor or directly with a local supermarket. Or look for a community volunteer program like Friendly Shoppers, run by the Interfaith Volunteer Caregivers in New Haven, CT. One of many similar programs run by community organizations throughout the country, Friendly Shoppers provides trained volunteers to escort elderly men and women to the supermarket or pick up and deliver grocery items for those who cannot do it themselves.

  • Community Meals. Congregate or group meal programs provide hot meals at designated community centers and may also be able to arrange transportation to and from the site. The short bit of travel and the group social contact may be more appealing to some people than staying at home and having their meals delivered to their doors.

To find out what your community has to offer in the way of adult meal services, start by contacting your local senior center or elderly services agency. Also, many programs operate out religious institutions and general community centers. You can also get help finding services in your area by contacting the Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 or using the tools on their website.

Kate Walton reviewed this article.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Administration on Aging: Elder Care Locator: Food and Nutrition.

Gollub, EA and Weddle, DO. "Improvements in Nutritional Intake and Quality of Life Among Frail Homebound Older Adults Receiving Home-Delivered Breakfast and Lunch." Journal of the American Dietetic Association Aug 2004;104(8):1227-35. Web. Dec 2012.

Roy, MA and Payette, H. "Meals-On-Wheels Improves Energy and Nutrient Intake in a Frail, Free-Living Elderly Population."  Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging Nov-Dec 2006;10(6):554-60. Web. Dec 2012

Yale University: Elder Care Nutrition Web. Dec 2012.