What are Meals on Wheels?
‘Meals on Wheels’ describes a specific type of home food delivery service for the elderly or infirm. It differs from normal food delivery services in that it aims to provide at least one nutritious meal every day (up to 3 meals a day, plus snacks and desserts) to elderly people who struggle to or don’t want to prepare meals for themselves.
Meals on Wheels can be delivered every day if the meal is hot or delivered several times a week if the food is chilled, and possibly even once every 2 weeks if the meals are frozen. The meals that are provided are already cooked and supplied in microwaveable containers. They can be kept in the fridge or freezer and reheated in a microwave or oven as and when needed. Typically, meals are delivered chilled or frozen, but some Meals on Wheels companies do offer hot food deliveries also.
Does the NHS provide Meals on Wheels?
Unfortunately, the National Health Service does not provide Meals on Wheels for the elderly. The NHS only provides meals to people who are in residential hospital care.
Does the council provide Meals on Wheels?
Some local councils do still offer Meals on Wheels services to select groups of elderly people within their local area. However, this number is rapidly declining across the UK. According to the Association of Public Service Excellence, a quarter of all UK councils stopped their Meals on Wheels for the elderly between 2014 and 2018 alone. Since this date, numbers have continued to decline and now almost all Meals on Wheels for the elderly are provided by private companies, some of which work in partnership with local councils. However, some local councils continue to provide this service to the elderly and infirm. To check if your council offers Meals on Wheels visit the UK Government website and enter your postcode here.
How do Meals on Wheels services work?
It is very easy to set up Meals on Wheels deliveries. First, check with your local council if they provide free or subsidised Meals on Wheels. If there are no locally funded Meals on Wheels for the elderly in your area, then you can use one of the many private meal delivery services for the elderly that operate in the UK. There are over half a dozen Meals on Wheels companies, also known as meal delivery services for the elderly, across England at the time of writing. If you or your loved one would like to start receiving Meals on Wheels to your home you can phone or visit the company website to make an enquiry, set up the service, and order your meals.
Typically, Meals on Wheels services will provide cooked food as a frozen meal in a microwaveable container, making it easy for the customer to store the meal in the fridge or freezer and reheat it when they are ready. These types of microwavable meals are usually ready to eat after 3 or 4 minutes in the microwave. It’s a great way to ensure that an elderly person is getting a hot meal every day that is full of nutrition without having to shop and prepare it for themselves.
Most companies that provide Meals on Wheels for the elderly offer a wide range of meal choices, catering to many preferences and dietary requirements.
Here are some of the types of meals and dietary requirements generally catered for:
- Soft and puréed meals for people who have difficulty chewing dense foods or swallowing
- Low carbohydrate/sugar for people with diabetes
- Low-fat meals
- Gluten-free meals
- Kosher or halal meals
How much are Meals on Wheels?
The cost of Meals on Wheels for the elderly depends on the company, but on average the price for a main meal, including delivery, is between £5 and £7. Desserts cost on average between £2 and £5, and snacks/small meals cost between £3.50 and £5.
These costs are very competitive compared to the price of buying the food and cooking it yourself. For many meals, it would work out more expensive to buy and cook the food yourself. Some companies now providing Meals on Wheels for the elderly across the UK work in partnership with local councils to be able to offer the meals at a subsidised rate, making them affordable for most people. If you or an elderly person you know is struggling to pay for food, you can contact your local council which may be able to offer assistance in the way of free food at local food banks or put you in touch with a local lunch club for the elderly (a voluntary service that offers lunches for free or at a subsidised cost).
Do I have to sign a contract with Meals on Wheels?
The majority of Meals on Wheels providers do not require you to sign a contract. This means that you can cancel or change the service you receive at any time. The Meals on Wheels provider may require a minimum notice period if you would like to make significant changes to the service you receive (such as canceling the deliveries). The minimum notice period may be one day or one week, but you should check this with the company before you sign up.
How did Meals on Wheels start?
The phrase ‘Meals on Wheels’ was first coined in 1943 during the second world war. Historical archives of the Royal Voluntary Service show us that the service was first organised in response to the elderly and infirm of the UK needing extra support because of the war. Their younger and more physically capable relatives who usually assisted them had to go away to war or work towards the war effort in some way. This left many elderly people in the UK alone to feed themselves. As a result of this need the first Meals on Wheels services were born.
The name ‘Meals on Wheels’ is derived from the delivery method of transporting meals in prams, carts, bicycles with baskets, cars, and other wheeled vehicles. They used any mode of transport they could deliver the meals across towns and cities. The concept of delivering meals to those unable to prepare their own evolved from this war effort service into the modern services we see today. How the service operates has changed but the main concept behind it hasn’t: to deliver daily nutritious meals to the homes of the elderly and infirm.
Taking care of the elderly
Meals on Wheels for the elderly is a great way for your elderly loved one to get a hearty, nutritious meal every day. It’s also a chance for them to have a social interaction once a week with the delivery person coming to the home. It can be useful for relatives to track how much food their elderly loved one is consuming if there are concerns about weight loss or weight gain.
Some Meals on Wheels companies offer a ‘welfare check’ when they deliver meals – meaning that they quickly check that the person is ok and there are no obvious problems or risks to their health and environment. However, the welfare of an elderly person is not the responsibility of the Meals on Wheels driver. In some cases, the delivery driver will not be able to enter the home, so a welfare check is not feasible.
If you or an elderly loved one is thinking about extra home support – such as receiving Meals on Wheels – then it may be worth considering home care services from Country Cousins. We offer flexible home care options for the elderly across England. From temporary respite and postoperative care to live-in care and overnight care for those who require round-the-clock support. Our adjustable care options mean as your needs change so does our care, so you get exactly the support you want, when you need it. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you remain living comfortably in your own home, get in touch with us today. Our compassionate and friendly team is available 7 days a week between 7.30 am and 5.30 pm, on 01923 224706. Alternatively, complete our enquiry form.