Should You Use a Meal Delivery Service?

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For people who are getting older or facing a major illness or disability, a lot of factors make it more challenging to shop for and prepare healthy meals. Limited mobility may make it hard to get to the grocery store and cook. A chronic health problem, such as diabetes or heart disease, may put new restrictions on someone’s diet that make it tougher to know what to eat at mealtimes. A meal delivery service can help.

These services vary in cost, structure, and the types of food they offer. Certain nonprofits offer meals at low or no cost to those receiving them. Some meal delivery services offer specialty diet meals, a rotating menu of meal choices, and meals that you can store in your freezer for up to a year (ready to be reheated when you’re ready for dinner).

“Ready-to-go meals decrease time and energy spent on food preparation,” says Leanna Tu, RD, Clinical Dietitian at Stanford Health Care. They may be the shortcut you or a loved one need to stay in good health or to recover from an illness or disability. Here’s what else you need to know:

Who should use meal delivery services?

Anyone who struggles with shopping for groceries, cooking, or preparing foods that meet specific dietary needs might benefit from a meal delivery service. Specifically, meal delivery services are appropriate for aging adults as well as people with disabilities or major illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, or dementia. These conditions can leave someone with more fatigue, bed-ridden, or with limited financial resources for food. Meal delivery can help you overcome those obstacles.

A meal delivery service can also help take some stress off caregivers. Whether you’re caring for a parent or other loved one in your own home or from afar, getting healthy meals on the table is yet another item on what can seem like an endless to-do list. Having easy prepared meals on hand gives you one less thing to worry about.

What if I can’t afford it?

Some nonprofit meal delivery services or local community organizations may provide meals to older adults in your area for free. If you or someone you know is still struggling with the cost of food, ask your medical team about consulting a social worker, who may be able to help find grants or funding that are specific to your hospital or medical center for that purpose, says Cara Anselmo, MS, RD, Clinical Dietitian Nutritionist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

You can also try the National Council on Aging’s Benefits Checkup tool, which helps you find benefits and assistance programs in your area. Food and nutrition assistance is one of the many types of benefits the tool can help you access.

What types of services are available?

Meal delivery services vary significantly from program to program. The nonprofit Meals on Wheels America provides meals free of cost to seniors in most communities across America. Seniors may also be able to find free meal delivery services in their area through local community and religious organizations.

There are also companies that offer national or local meal delivery for seniors and/or for people with cancer or other illnesses. Rates vary per meal and depending on location. But in most cases, you can choose from several meal options.

Many services include options for special diets, such as low-sodium or limited-carbohydrate diets, or pureed foods for people who have difficulty swallowing or chewing. Make sure that the service you choose offers options that fit your specific needs.

You can search for meal delivery services near you or a loved one using our service finder:

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