Home Senior Resources How Much do Meals on Wheels Cost?

How Much do Meals on Wheels Cost?

by Derrick

Last updated September 26th, 2023

Originally published September 24, 2019

Do you have questions about Meals on Wheels? Do you wonder how much Meals on Wheels cost? What is it, how is it funded, and who is eligible? You’re not alone! Your questions are answered below. In addition, we’ll delve into the rich history, the unwavering mission, and the ever-expanding reach of Meals on Wheels, showcasing how it not only delivers food but also delivers care, companionship, and a sense of belonging to those who need it most.

nutritious meals on wheels meal being enjoyed by two seniors

What is Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers meals to the homes of seniors who are homebound and unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. It is a nationwide program made up of over 5,000 local community-run programs. The meals are typically hot meals delivered by volunteer drivers. Meals are often delivered five times a week. The program is sometimes referred to as the home-delivered meals program.

Related article: Who Qualifies for Meals on Wheels?

The meals are monitored for nutritional value and quality. The average age of a participant is 79. More than half of them live alone. More than 60% of participants say home-delivered meals provide one-half or more of their total food for the day (source).

The program services are intended to:

  • Reduce hunger
  • Help older adults
  • Promote socialization
  • Delay the onset of health conditions
  • Provide an in-person safety check on seniors
meal delivery of a nutritious meal by caring volunteers to a family member or clients needing support from their community

Additional (quite impressive) Facts:

  • Meals on Wheels delivers a staggering 247 million meals each year to 2.8 million seniors and counting.  
  • 92% of people say that home-delivered meals help them continue living independently.
  • 95% of people would recommend their Meals on Wheels service to a friend.
  • Meals on Wheels can serve a senior for an entire year for roughly the same cost as a day in the hospital, or 10 in a nursing home.

How are Meals on Wheels Programs Funded?

Meals on Wheels programs are funded through different sources, the largest being the Older Americans Act: Nutrition Services Program. This federal funding source accounts for 35% of costs (in the aggregate). The programs receive the remaining funds through other sources, such as:

  • State and local governments
  • Foundations
  • Fundraising
  • Direct payment from consumers
  • Donations

Medicaid waiver programs and Community Development Block Grants also offer funding in some instances.

Who is Eligible for Meals on Wheels?

Because Meals on Wheels programs are administered by different agencies and funded through different sources, eligibility can vary. You always want to check with your local Area Agency on Aging (find yours here), but eligibility generally includes criteria such as:

  • Age 60 and older
  • Limited income
  • Homebound
  • Unable to prepare healthy meals
  • Able to accept meals from drivers
an older woman working to prepare meals and/or future frozen meals by fileting a large fish in her own home

How much does Meals on Wheels cost?

Meals on Wheels costs can vary depending on the program and the individual’s ability to pay. The cost to produce and deliver meals averages $6.00 – $7.00 per meal. Most programs ask low-income seniors to contribute what they can, with a suggested donation or voluntary contribution of $3.00 per meal being common. Individuals who do not meet the income criteria for free meals may be asked to cover the actual production and delivery cost of the meal to their own homes.

It is important to note that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can also be used by seniors to help cover costs associated with Meals on Wheels.

How do You Sign Someone Up for Meals On Wheels?

It is very easy to sign someone up for Meals on Wheels. Typically, the people who want to use a MOW program have to download a particular application, fill in the information, and then sign up. The application is compatible with smartphones, PC (Personal Computer), tablets, etc.

The managers of these MOW apps want to assess the body’s requirement for food, as well as other supportive services. It is important to fill in the requested information so that the service can deliver the right products to you.

In special cases, some MOW programs may ask the signed-up person to send a referral letter from the hospital or doctors to confirm their condition.

two people offering eachother support while holding hands

Are Meals on Wheels Any Good?

There is without a shade of doubt that Meals on Wheels do wonders for people’s health. According to various studies from differing institutions, Meals on Wheels plays an important part in protecting people from harm and unnecessary damage to unhealthy food. Those receiving MOW prove to be more nutritionally balanced, less hospitalized and have fewer falls.

a smiling older woman sitting down to eat a meal delivery with her pets at her side (if only they also offered pet food!)

But really, are the meals any good?

In most cases – yes! These meals are prepared by chefs and dieticians who look forward to bringing high-quality, nutritious meals to their clients.

Does Medicaid Pay for Meals on Wheels?

Although original Medicare doesn’t take any responsibility for any home-delivered meal service, including Meals on Wheels, if you have specific qualifications, you are still eligible for meal delivery service from private insurance plans. 

Among them, Medicaid is applied to the homebound and those who are qualified for this service. If you are eligible for Medicaid, you will likely receive a waiver that pays for home-delivered meals. However, that service is only applied to Mom’s Meals and Homestyle Direct. Therefore, if you have any questions about the use, contact your state’s Medicaid center.

What Kind of Food is Served on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels menus are well-known for their variety of nutritious food, which helps protect people from diseases and harm and improve their mental and physical health conditions. Most of the people receiving Meals on Wheels are satisfied with the variation of food and inclusion of plenty of vegetables. These meals are also able to be customized to meet individuals’ particular dietary needs and/or special diets.

a chef holding a nutritious meal with necessary daily nutrients

What are the Best Home Delivery Meals?

Questions about the best home delivery meals are frequently asked, as most customers cannot decide which meals they want due to the variety of meals available. However, we are here to provide you with some of the most popular and tastiest home-delivered meal options and hope it helps you to choose one suitable for you and your family.

The list includes Home Chef, designed for big appetites, Sun Basket for organic lovers, Freshly, suitable for those who love home-made food by don’t want to cook, EveryPlate which is best for limited budgets, and Blue Apron for easy meal kit delivery.

a plate of food being sprinkled with seasoning

Can I Deliver Food to Elderly Parents?

Meals On Wheels programs are almost always looking for volunteer drivers as part of their transportation services, so if you have a clean driving record and can pass a criminal background check (usually), a wheels program would likely add you to their volunteer list, and some drivers may even be paid positions.

What are Mom’s Meals?

Mom’s Meals is a program that is nutritionally tailored for users. For this reason, Mom’s Meals are designed to deliver the most nutritious and healthy meals to your home! In each delivery, you are free to choose meals that are ready to eat after a few minutes of heating. There is no need to worry about the quality of the food, as each dish delivered to you is cooked by professional chefs and approved by Safe Quality Food  (SQF).

Where Can Senior Citizens Get Free Food?

It is oftentimes an uphill struggle for senior citizens to make ends meet and maintain a stable life due to declining or poor health and lack of employment. Particularly, during the aftermath of this worldwide pandemic, this task seems to be the most challenging task for them. However, Meals On Wheels has various programs to provide meals for the elderly with free food boxes.

a bunch of food bagged for delivery to a client in need in the community

To access this service, contact the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is typically able to deliver free meals to those who are over 60 and have limited budgets. Therefore, to find the nearest site, call WhyHunger’s Food HelpLine for more information.

How Many Meals on Wheels Locations Are There?

Being such a popular foundation, it has expanded to around 5000 independently run local locations. In particular, it has appeared in virtually most American communities and gained trust and love from citizens worldwide.

The reasons behind this love lie in Meals On Wheels’s aims. While each program’s services and operation are distinctive due to each community’s different demands and resources, Meals On Wheels is specifically designed to provide help and support to the needy and to the senior neighbors to help them adopt a healthier life.

Can You Freeze Meals on Wheels and/or Mom’s Meals?

For preservation and later use, you can store MOW or mom’s meals in the refrigerator, and they can last for up to two weeks! Therefore, after taking them out of the fridge, you don’t have to thaw; they just need to be heated up. Typical meals need to be heated for around two minutes, and you’ll have a satisfying and nutritious meal that’s ready to eat!

In case you want to keep them for later use, meals can be frozen and stored in your freezer. At a later time, defrost and heat them whenever you want. In this way, your meals are preserved from harmful bacteria and keep the original taste.

a plate of food for a client

Additional Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. What are the cons of Meals on Wheels?

    Sometimes, the meal plan is not able to be tailored to a food-specific diet plan. Additionally, because of growing demand, many Meals on Wheel programs are already on a long waiting list.

  2. How much exactly is delivered by Meals on Wheels?

    Meals on Wheels offers two meals daily to elderly or older people in their 60s and older who meet program eligibility guidelines. A warm meal is provided early in the morning with cooled cold food which can be stored in a cooler or consumed later.

  3. What additional services, if any, does Meals on Wheels provide?

    Depending on your area, Meals on Wheels has a robust list of offerings, including pet assistance and home repair or modification services, among many others. Check out the full offerings available to you on the Meals on Wheels website.

Further Reading

Below are some books that many have found helpful not just for caregiving, but specific to caregiving and meals (ie they contain nutrition education, ideas for family members, providing meals for those maintaining independent living, ideas for emergency meals, etc.):

About the Author

Derrick Grant

Derrick Grant began his professional career working as a social worker in a nursing home, helping residents and families navigate the world of long-term care. He then worked as the Social Services Manager at an area agency on aging where he oversaw Information and Referral and programs such as Alzheimer’s Respite, Matter of Balance, and Meals on Wheels eligibility.

He then worked as Director of an Adult Day Care at an Alzheimer’s care facility and has served on the board of the Maine Adult Day Services Association. He’s also worked for the State of Maine as a Research Analyst at the Office of Elder Services. He now works as a Program Manager on Medicaid policy and writes on topics related to healthy aging, sustainable caregiving, and Alzheimer’s Disease.


Gaylene Campbell July 9, 2022 - 11:02 pm

I’m 54 yrs old and getting ready to have heart surgery done on July 15th and I’m not going to feel like cooking when I get back home from the hospital I live in Missouri is there any chance I would qualify for this service I’m not going to be working for 2 months so I won’t have any income

Derrick July 10, 2022 - 7:05 am

There is a chance, but odds are that it would have to come from a non-federal funding source. When I directed social services for an Area Agency on Aging we had a pool of money that came from United Way and other donors for this very purpose – to serve people for a limited time who were being discharged from the hospital. Check with your Area Agency on Aging, try calling 211, and check with a case manager at the hospital. One of those contacts should know if some similar service exists.

Cohen Barry June 15, 2022 - 5:49 pm

How can I sign up for meals?

Derrick June 15, 2022 - 7:25 pm

Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out. You can find them in our “Resources by State” link in the sidebar of our website near the top.

Linda Sharp October 30, 2021 - 1:07 am

I’m 64, recently 8 weeks ago dealing with a hip injury which pretty much has me housebound, using a cane, and making cooking and caring for myself extremely difficult. My doctor has me doing daily televisit just to keep me out of the hospital right now and has just signed me up for in home re-hab as well as Meals on Wheels. Do I qualify? I’m on SSDI and funds are limited. Is this service very expensive?

Derrick November 1, 2021 - 7:02 am

You likely qualify. Also, when I worked at an Area Agency on Aging, we had a grant to deliver MOW to people specifically who were discharged from a hospital. So, you might qualify a few different ways.

Grazia Sher October 12, 2021 - 2:54 pm

Does meals on wheels have vegetarian and fish options ? I don’t eat any meat,

Derrick October 13, 2021 - 8:40 pm

They can usually accommodate most diets.

Arleta wood February 8, 2021 - 8:44 am

Can i get meals on wheels. I am 94. And can drive a small amount if time but not feeling safe. I live alone and my children live away. So i have no help. I try to do it all alone

Derrick February 8, 2021 - 12:58 pm

You should be able to, yes. Even if you do not qualify because of income, you may be able to pay privately. Have you called your Area Agency on Aging?

Jason D.Bohanon August 11, 2020 - 8:41 pm

As a small town in,Hope,Arkansas we need to give hope to our needed ones who depand on us in one major need in there lives.we don’t have any programs in this area ,but the demand is needed now and for hopes furture over times to be on call to help others who can’t help themselfs and there will be a bigger need for this.

Jason D.Bohanon August 11, 2020 - 8:33 pm

We have a town that is around 10,00000 in ,Hope,Arkansas.we have alot of older men,women,disable young adults in government housing of people of color that can’t depend on family to have a home cooked meal and drinking water to get them thew the day.

John A. Gardner May 30, 2020 - 8:53 pm

I have a brother with dementia and lives with his older wife.
the live in McClellan Ca. how do I set up a visit for them to received meals
on wheels. I have the Medical Power of Attorney. They are not eating well.

Derrick May 31, 2020 - 7:47 am

John, have you tried the Area Agency on Aging in your area? Find it through our state resources page.

Martha Reynolds May 11, 2020 - 4:35 pm

I am 63, and have severe Osteoarthritis. I cannot walk, I have to sit on my walker and push myself around. I live in the basement of some very nice people. I pay them what I can. I cannot stand up to cook my own meals. How can I get Meals on Wheels to my door?

Derrick May 11, 2020 - 5:37 pm

You should contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out how.

Craig May 10, 2020 - 8:23 pm

My Mom lives in Milwaukee and is 80 years old and lives on here own. How do I go about getting her meals. She is just getting SSI.

Derrick May 11, 2020 - 5:37 pm

Hi, Craig. Have you tried the Area Agency on Aging in your mother’s area?

Miling Vasquez May 8, 2020 - 11:03 pm

We are seniors,my husband Is 68 yrs old congested heart failure and I am 72 yrs old with severe arthritis

John BRACEY April 21, 2020 - 3:26 am

Please show menus how much Perth meal Thank you DJBracey


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