Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a nationwide program that provides older Americans nutritious meals and safety checks at little to no cost. The meals can be delivered to your home if you meet eligibility requirements, or you can go to a congregate nutrition site for socialization and food. If you struggle with isolation and meal prep, then Meals on Wheels could provide ease and companionship.

Lindsey Crossmier, writer for RetireGuide
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APA Crossmier, L. (2022, June 13). Meals on Wheels. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 8, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/aging-in-place/meals-on-wheels/

MLA Crossmier, Lindsey. "Meals on Wheels." RetireGuide.com, 13 Jun 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/aging-in-place/meals-on-wheels/.

Chicago Crossmier, Lindsey. "Meals on Wheels." RetireGuide.com. Last modified June 13, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-life-leisure/senior-housing/aging-in-place/meals-on-wheels/.

What Is Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels America is a nonprofit organization with over 5,000 programs across the country, offering older Americans relief by providing meals, overcoming social isolation and removing safety hazards in their homes. Currently, Meals on Wheels is helping 2.4 million Americans annually.

Many older Americans wish to age gracefully in their own home, which is also referred to as aging in place. Meals on Wheels makes aging in place less stressful by removing the hassle of excess cooking and cleaning.

Other senior housing options can provide meals, but they often require you to leave your home and move into a costly facility. Meals on Wheels provides peace of mind, knowing that someone is coming by to check in on you with a meal in hand.

Did you know?
While each meal is only a couple of dollars, Meals on Wheels explicitly states that no one will be denied a meal due to financial issues. The only rare time a meal may not be provided is due to lack of resources, such as volunteers, to supply or deliver meals.

Meals on Wheels provides two main types of services — home delivered meals and congregate site meals. Factors like your age, overall health and finances influence if you qualify for delivered meals or have to travel to a congregate site.

Meals on Wheels Delivery Versus Congregate Site Statistics
Meals on Wheels ParticipantsHome DeliveredCongregate Site
Over age 7562%53%
Do not have enough money to buy food33%17%
Reported over three medical conditions90%85%
Live alone58%51%
Source: Meals on Wheels

Most who are over age 75 with medical conditions opted into the home-delivered option for hassle-free meals.

With home delivered meals, a safety check will also be provided by the individual bringing your meal. Know that you must meet the qualifications for a home-delivered meal and may be placed on a waitlist. Some qualifications include being at risk of malnutrition or having mobility issues.

If you are experiencing a health crisis, such as being released from a healthcare facility, some states offer an Emergency Meals on Wheels program. In this case, you can surpass the waitlist and be provided 30 days of meals to your home during your recovery phase.

If you don’t qualify for home-delivered meals, then you can go to a congregate site for meals. Typically, these gatherings are held at a senior center. This option offers more socialization opportunities than home-delivered meals. Several nutrition sites also have transportation services available to help you get there.

Locations

A Meals on Wheels program is available in every state, making meals accessible for struggling older Americans. There is a Meals on Wheels provider tool to help you find a program near you.

To use the provider tool, you will need to input your zip code. This will generate a list that shows programs nearby with contact information including address, phone number and website. From there, you can contact the program of your choice to learn more.

Depending on which location you choose, there could be different eligibility requirements. For example, Seniors First, the primary Meals on Wheels provider in Orange County, Florida, has an age requirement of 60 years or older to qualify.

How Do You Sign Up?

Once you find a Meals on Wheels provider near you, the next step is to sign up. Programs will provide a phone number to call for more information. Signing up steps may differ depending on if you need home delivery meals or plan to go to a congregate site.

For home delivery, you will need to apply to see if you meet eligibility requirements.

Home Delivery Meals on Wheels Requirements
  • Over 60 years old
  • At risk of malnourishment
  • Severe mobility issues
  • Must be assessed in person
  • Have a disability

Note that not all providers have the exact same requirements and may vary slightly. Once you apply, you must get approved before receiving meals. Most Meals on Wheels programs have a waitlist.

If you want to attend a congregate site for meals, you’ll likely need to call at least a week in advance to make reservations. This way, you are guaranteed a meal and a seat.

Requirements for Meals on Wheels at a Congregate Site
  • Over 60 years old
  • At risk of malnourishment
  • Have a disability

Home-delivered meals require you to meet more qualifications than eating meals at a congregate site.

What Is a Typical Meal?

A typical Meals on Wheels meal will provide you with at least one-third of your daily nutrients. Meals can be modified for those with health issues or vegetarian restrictions.

A typical meal within the program includes:
  • Salad
  • Main course
  • Starches
  • Vegetables
  • Bread
  • Dessert
  • Milk

Each meal varies in cost depending on your circumstances — it could range from entirely free to full cost. On average, the meals don’t cost more than $7 and you will simply be asked to donate whatever you can afford. But it’s important to note that you will never be denied a meal due to a lack of funds.

For home-delivered meals, they will be brought to your front door Monday through Friday. Most congregate sites have calendars on their website with meal dates and times available.

Last Modified: June 13, 2022

4 Cited Research Articles

  1. Meals on Wheels America. (n.d.). Delivering So Much More Than Just a Meal. Retrieved from https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/learn-more/what-we-deliver?gclid=CjwKCAjwp7eUBhBeEiwAZbHwkTC06d0HrtM6j1NsYzMZvA5ArFh78ENQpswsWGXoQdrwvGz5briKfxoC4RAQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
  2. Meals on Wheels America. (n.d.). Find A Meals on Wheels Provider Near You. Retrieved from https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/signup/find-programs
  3. Seniors First Inc. (n.d.). What We Do | Meal Programs. Retrieved from https://seniorsfirstinc.org/what-we-do/meal-programs/
  4. Meals on Wheels People. (n.d.). FAQ. Retrieved from https://www.mowp.org/faq/#:~:text=Each%20meal%20includes%20a%20salad,cholesterol%20or%20low%20sodium%20meals