Jan 25, 2011 3:33 PM
Having meals delivered at home can be handy for nearly everyone -- no matter your age, income level, or mobility. These days, there are many options for meal delivery, from Meals on Wheels to gourmet meal delivery. So whether you're just too busy to cook, or a medical condition makes preparing meals too difficult, there's a home delivery option that's likely right for you.
We asked Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD, director of nutrition at WebMD, about the different meal delivery services available for those over 60.
The Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is the largest and oldest organization that provides meals to seniors. Although MOWAA is a national organization, it operates on a local level -- with about 5,000 senior nutrition programs across all 50 states. Each program, and the types of meals it offers, varies from area to area. But one thing remains consistent -- the level of nutrition the programs provide. Each meal served meets one-third of the daily dietary guidelines for seniors.
"The great thing about the Meals on Wheels program is that a nutritionist is making sure you're getting the nutrition you need," says Zelman. "So you can be assured of having at least one square meal a day."
"Meals on Wheels is a nutrition program, not just a feeding program; that's what sets us apart from other food programs," says Margaret B. Ingraham, senior vice president for public policy at MOWAA. "We're not just trying to feed people, but to provide at least one nutritious meal each day. Each meal contains an entr e, vegetable, a starch and fruit, as well as a beverage. And most of the meals are also low in sodium."
Although the menus vary locally, some programs provide options for people who have special dietary needs, such as meals for those who are vegetarian or who have diabetes or chewing problems. Some locations also provide an ethnic meal option, depending on their local population.
Most of the programs serve one meal a day each weekday, though some serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. Depending on the program, meals may be delivered hot, cold, or frozen, ready for reheating. In some cases, MOWAA can even provide a microwave to make sure clients can reheat the meals.
All homebound adults aged 60 or older are eligible for Meals on Wheels, regardless of income. "Most programs request a small donation for meals, or offer a sliding scale, but no one is turned away if they can't pay," says Ingraham. To find a Meals on Wheels provider near you, visit www.mowaa.org or call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.
If you're just too busy to cook, or prefer not to cook, you'll find a wide range of online companies willing to do the cooking for you. Among them: Bistro MD, DineWise, Magic Kitchen, Personal Chef To Go, and others. Whether you're celebrating a special occasion, or want meals on a weekly basis, chances are you can find a company to provide you meals that will fit your taste and budget -- delivered right to your doorstep.
Some of these companies specialize in gourmet food or special-occasion meals, while others focus on special dietary needs or weight loss. Most of the food arrives frozen, but a few companies ship food fresh.
Prices generally start at about $10 a meal, not including delivery, and go up from there. Some offer senior discounts, or provide deeper discounts when you order in bulk. But, as with anything you purchase online, it's important to learn as much as you can about the company and their products before you buy.
"Home-delivered meals are a great alternative to cooking," says Zelman. "But it's important to make sure the menus offer good nutrition." Zelman suggests checking the nutritional content of the food before you order.
Most companies post nutrition information for all of their meals right on their web site. And some companies offer several meal options geared especially to meet dietary guidelines for seniors. Many of the sites also offer options for a host of dietary and medical needs, such as low-sodium and low-carb meals, diabetic meals, and vegetarian options.
Whatever company you use, you'll want to make sure that you like the food. "Find out if you can try a meal or two before making a larger order," says Zelman. Although many of the companies sell meals in packs of seven or more, some will allow you to purchase individual meals. Try sampling the food from a few different companies to see which you like best.
Another option is your local grocery store. "Many grocery stores offer home delivery service," says Zelman. "And some of these stores offer a selection of pre-cooked meals and foods," including roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and fresh soups and salads.
Most stores require a minimum order for delivery, but some will waive the delivery charge when you spend a certain amount. There are also online grocery stores, which allow you to see prices and keep track of your purchases. Go online and search for "online grocery stores" in your town.
Many restaurants also offer home delivery. These services vary widely from place to place, but many deliver free of charge, though you're usually expected to tip the delivery person. In some areas, a company provides home delivery for several different restaurants. These companies usually charge a small delivery fee on top of the cost of food. You can find restaurant delivery options in your area by checking on the Internet or looking in your local telephone book.
If you'd like more personal service, you may consider hiring a personal chef. A personal chef can work with you to create meals that work with your taste and dietary needs. Most personal chefs come to your home and cook in your kitchen, but some work in their own kitchen and bring the finished meals to you.
You may be able to save money by sharing meals with a friend, neighbor, or family member. To find a personal chef in your area, check the listings at the American Personal & Private Chef Association (www.personalchef.com) or the United States Personal Chef Association (www.uspca.com).