Good nutrition is important, no matter your age or stage in life. But as we age, life and physiological changes alter what we need to do to stay healthy. We might need fewer calories, or more protein in our diets. And we may need assistance in making nutritious food for ourselves.
Many older adults may struggle with food preparation, such as peeling and chopping vegetables, or be unable to stand at the stove for long periods. Some seniors turn to convenience meals like fast food and frozen dinners, which likely don’t provide the nutrition needed to reduce chronic disease risk or promote healthy aging.
Feeding Westchester, which aims to eradicate hunger across Westchester County, works in many ways to address the challenges of food insecurity for older adults. When a new opportunity arose with a local caterer to prepare hot meals for this population in need, Feeding Westchester turned to United Hebrew of New Rochelle. They partnered on a first-of-its-kind pilot program to deliver fully cooked and nutritionally balanced meals to residents of United Hebrew’s senior housing apartments.
“We’d never done anything like this before,” says Nicole Dobson, Feeding Westchester’s manager of programs services. “So, we needed a reliable partner who was easy to work with and whom we knew would help the pilot be successful. We knew from our work with United Hebrew on our Senior Grocery program that they would be an excellent candidate for this pilot.”
Of the 20 million pounds of food that Feeding Westchester distributes annually, none is cooked. What to include in the meal and how to deliver it required meticulous research and planning around food safety, explained Dobson, a nutritionist. Working with the team at Montverde at Oldstone, the caterer donating its services for the pilot program, she decided on a meal of sauteed broccoli with lemon basil chicken and herbed rice.
“It was important that it include a vegetable, grain, and protein, with no added sugar or sodium, which is so important for many older adults. We also decided Monteverde’s team would cook it at their facility, then freeze it. That way, we’d keep it at a safe temperature for delivery.”
The 150 residents at Soundview and Meadow Lane Senior Apartments were notified about the opportunity to participate and the slots filled up quickly.
“They were really excited about this,” notes Joanne Lanza, United Hebrew’s vice president of housing. “The biggest benefit is that they don’t have to prepare and cook this delicious meal. But just as important is the opportunity to come together to receive the meal. Meal time is social. The lack of socialization for all of us throughout the pandemic has been so profound. While we’re not yet back to communal dining, this is a step in the right direction.”
With the one-day pilot completed, the project partners hope to replicate and scale the program. The feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive.
For Lanza and the seniors in United Hebrew’s apartments, the hope is to have the next meal shared together.