Millions of elderly individuals are socially isolated, have limited income and assets, and/or rely on resources like group meals, food banks, transportation assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) to access healthy food.

Food insecurity has long been a problem for older Americans, but the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to prevent its spread have exacerbated existing barriers to food access and presented new ones. Many senior centers and congregate dining sites that provide meals, as well as public transportation services, have had to change how they operate to protect the health and safety of employees, volunteers, consumers and communities as a whole. Although these measures are particularly important for older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions since they are at greater risk for becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, it complicates matters for those who are already struggling to obtain nutritious meals.

Fortunately, there are options available for seniors who need help getting groceries and prepared meals that involve minimal or no contact with other people.

Grocery Delivery for Seniors

The following services may only be available in limited service areas. Some of these options utilize personal shoppers and delivery people to deliver groceries and other items from local stores while others deliver or ship from large distribution centers. Contactless delivery and pick-up options are available from most retailers and service providers as well. Keep in mind that a membership or subscription may be required, delivery fees may apply, and tipping is encouraged.

Paid Meal Delivery for Elderly Individuals

While some of the grocery delivery services listed above may also offer meal kits and prepared foods, the following services specialize in delivering fully cooked meals that are ready to reheat and eat. Offerings typically include subscriptions or meal plans and/or à la carte ordering for entrees, side dishes, snacks, breakfasts, desserts and more. Some services even prepare diabetic-friendly meals, dialysis-friendly meals, low-sodium meals, gluten-free meals and other nutritious options that are formulated for seniors who follow special diets. Senior meal delivery services are typically paid for out of pocket. In some cases, state Medicaid programs, Medicare Advantage plans (Part C) or other health insurance plans may offer a paid meal benefit that covers meal delivery costs from certain providers.

Nutrition Benefits and Food Assistance Programs for the Elderly

Grocery and meal delivery services are one solution for seniors who are homebound, cannot drive and/or prefer to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19, but these options can be pricey. Most older adults live on a fixed income, which can make it especially difficult to afford nutritious food.

The list of programs and resources below can provide monetary food assistance, low-cost or free meal delivery, shelf-stable pantry items, transportation services, and much more to older adults and individuals experiencing financial hardship.

  • Meals on Wheels America: Seniors are able to receive home-delivered meals for free or for a small fee that is based on their ability to pay.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Seniors who meet income and asset limits are eligible to receive a monetary benefit to supplement their grocery budgets. Allotments are disbursed on electronic benefit cards (EBT) similar to debit cards that may then be used at approved retailers to purchase food. Some states have partnered with retailers to participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, which enables SNAP recipients to pay for online grocery delivery services using their EBT cards. This pilot is currently available in 47 states and the District of Columbia. SNAP funds cannot be used to pay for delivery fees or other charges associated with grocery delivery, however.
  • Feeding America—Find a Food Bank: Use this search tool to find a food bank or food pantry in your area. Many of these sites offer low- and no-contact options like drive-through or walk-through pick-up and seniors-only hours. Some may offer contactless food delivery for seniors as well.
  • Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs): Your nearby AAA can connect you with federal, state and local resources for food assistance and many other senior benefits. Communities and local organizations typically offer unique supportive services to their residents that you may not be aware of.
  • Provided by the National Council on Aging, this free tool allows seniors to find benefits they may be eligible for by answering a few simple questions. Benefits aren’t just limited to food assistance programs either. Older adults may see if they qualify for veterans benefits, assistance with medication costs, tax relief programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), transportation assistance and much more.

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