What is Meals on Wheels

A not for profit organization of more than 3,200 local programs throughout the United States that prepares and delivers nutritious, hot meals daily to seniors who need such assistance to remain independent. Federal, state, and local funding supports the programs, which also charge a nominal fee (income-adjusted, if necessary) for meals. The program that evolved into Meals on Wheels started in the United States in 1954, modeled after a program that started during World War II in England. Today a substantial level of funding and other support for Meals on Wheels is provided through the U.S. Agency on Aging’s Elderly Nutrition Program.

Many local Meals on Wheels programs provide two meals a day, a hot meal and a cold meal, in a single delivery to a senior’s home. There are no income restrictions to qualify for services, although people requesting reduced rates may need to provide income verification. Most programs charge $6 to $8 a day; however, cost varies among locations. Generally a person must be 60 years of age or older, although most Wheels on Meals programs also accept younger people who have disabilities, such as those with Parkinson’s disease, that prevent them from shopping for groceries and preparing their own meals.

Registered dietitians plan the meals, which are then prepared and packaged in commercial kitchens. Most programs accommodate certain special nutritional requirements, such as low-sodium or diabetic diets. The two meals for each day typically provide two-thirds of the recommended calories and nutritional requirements. Most programs provide meals seven days a week, although some may deliver four meals on Saturdays and forgo Sunday deliveries. Service can be provided to meet temporary needs, such as during recovery from surgery, or long-term needs. Local telephone directories list contact information; in most areas, a phone call is all that is required to establish eligibility and sign up for meals. Local senior and social services organizations also know about services available in their area. Most Wheels on Meals programs can begin service immediately; those in smaller communities may have waiting lists.