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How Meal Delivery Services Can Help Caregivers—And Not Break the Budget

June 17, 2019 

For loved ones with mobility challenges, meal delivery services offer convenient options


If you lived in rural India, shopping would be a major headache. It can take hours to get to a store. When you finally get there, the choices are few, and the quality is questionable. Amazon is offering more product choices to make shopping less burdensome. To deliver packages to these remote customers, Amazon works with tens of thousands of local distributors to deliver packages, often on bicycles, on dirt roads. For India’s rural shoppers, getting purchases delivered to their doorstep is a whole new level of convenience.

Likewise, convenience is a must for caregivers who help coordinate meals for their loved ones. Shopping, meal preparation, and cooking can add hours to a caregiver’s already busy schedule.  It’s especially difficult when a caregiver is already doing these tasks for their own family. But it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Having quality meals delivered makes mealtime much easier.


What You'll Learn:

  • How to determine your loved one’s needs
  • Tips for choosing a delivery service
  • Recipes to meet dietary restrictions


First, Determine What Help Your Loved One Needs

The first question is, does your loved one even need a meal delivery service? Start by identifying their challenges. Can they drive to the store? If they can’t drive or don’t like to drive, it will be a struggle for them to get to the grocery store. If they can drive to the store, can they carry heavy grocery bags into the house? Next, determine if they’ll cook. Are they motivated to cook? Even if they have the necessary ingredients, they may not feel like doing the prep, cooking and cleanup. If cooking is difficult, your loved one may be tempted to skip a meal or eat snacks instead.


Do They Know How to Cook?

Can they plan out a variety of healthy meals? Do they know how to make a shopping list of the ingredients they’ll need? If they only know how to make a few different meals, eating can become monotonous. Assess whether it’s safe for them to cook. What’s the likelihood of them leaving a burner on? Cooking increases the risk of slips and falls, because it requires lots of reaching and bending to get ingredients. Note these challenges, and be aware of any changes. After you identify your loved one’s challenges, you can assess whether you need a meal delivery service.


Second, Choose the Right Service

If they do need a delivery service, don’t let the choices overwhelm you. Ask questions, read the information and assess your options. Then choose one that matches your loved one’s specific dietary needs. For example, a service that provides low or no-salt meals are best if your loved on has high blood pressure. 

If your loved one can’t shop or is unable to unload bags, grocery delivery services like Peapod, Instacart, AmazonFresh, and Amazon’s Prime Now can be a good solution.

With Peapod, you or your loved one can order groceries online, then groceries are delivered right into the kitchen. Often, customers enjoy the social interaction with the delivery person. The delivery fee is estimated at $7–10, depending on the size of your purchase. 

AmazonFresh will deliver groceries to your loved one’s front door. You’ll need to be an Amazon Prime member to get this service. AmazonFresh currently costs $14.99 per month (about $180 per year). There’s no delivery fee for orders above $50. Prime Now offers Amazon Prime members free delivery of Whole Foods groceries in two hours. These grocery delivery services aren’t available everywhere, so visit their websites and enter your loved one's zip code to see if they deliver to their area.


Ready-To-Cook Meals Shipped to Your Loved One's Front Door

If your loved one doesn’t drive, but likes to cook, a ready-to-cook meal delivery service can be a supplemental solution. They’re supplemental because most of them don’t provide 21 meals a week (3 meals a day X 7 days). Rather, they typically offer two-person meals with a choice of two, three or four meals per week. If your loved one only needs help with a few meals a week, these plans could be appropriate for them.

You might be concerned that the two-person meals will provide too much food if your loved one lives alone. The upside is that it can be an incentive for your loved one to invite a friend for dinner. And, they can always save leftovers for another meal.

Some plans offer meals for one person. The meals take about thirty minutes to prepare. One of the advantages of this service is the variety. You or your loved one can usually choose from ten or more recipe choices each week. The cost of a meal is generally about $8 - 10 per person.1 So, if you get six meals a week (three meals for two people), it will cost about $60 per week. Visit the websites for specific plan and cost info. This webpage provides an overview of ready-to-cook options.

Companies like HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Home Chef will ship meals for a week right to your loved one’s door. These services have all the ingredients needed to make a meal and step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructions. They can be a good fit for those who still enjoy cooking but struggle with meal planning and grocery shopping. Ready-to-cook meals are convenient, but you may be looking for an even easier option. 


Source: Meal kits continue to show strength, Supermarket News, 3/7/19


Ready-to-Heat Meals Are Ready to Pop in a Microwave

If your loved one isn’t interested in cooking at all, a ready-to-heat meal delivery service can work. These meals just need to be microwaved, no preparation is required. Most of these plans offer one-person meals. Each meal costs about $10 per meal. For 21 one-person meals per week, the cost will be about $210.  Over a year, the cost would be about $11,000. They also give you a choice of getting up to three meals a day for five or seven days a week. Some plans ship frozen meals and others provide fresh ingredients that are packed in vacuum-sealed, insulated and refrigerated boxes. Companies that offer these plans include Silver Cuisine, MagicKitchen, Balance, Diet-to-Go and Fresh n’ Lean. Having ready-to-heat meals is convenient, but another option is to have meals cooked right in your loved one’s home.


Personal Chefs Aren’t Just for the Rich and Famous

Their services usually include everything from shopping and kitchen cleanup. They’ll also package and store the meals in your freezer or fridge. One advantage of having a personal chef is that he or she will plan a customized menu for your loved one based on their suggestions, dietary concerns, and unique food preferences. Another advantage, especially if your loved one lives alone, is the social interaction your loved one can enjoy with the chef while they prepare meals. The cost of personal chefs vary, depending on the chef’s fees and your loved one’s location. But typically their services for 10-12 meals average about $200 a week, excluding the cost of food, which is usually between $45–$90.2 Chefs for Seniors provides personal chefs in 17 US locations. You can also find a chef in your area by searching here.


There May Be Free, or Low Cost, Meal Delivery Services in Your Area

Free or low-cost services include Meals on Wheels and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Meals on Wheels is available in most counties, and delivers hot meals daily to seniors in need. Meals are priced based on your loved one’s income. Delivery people are trained to recognize whether a loved one is safe, well, and comfortable. They look for signs of abuse, indications of falls, and symptoms of sickness. Seniors also enjoy some time to chat with the delivery person. Meals may also be available at local senior centers free of charge.

Eligibility depends on income level. Those who are eligible receive a SNAP debit card that can be used to purchase groceries. The program is administered through state agencies. Search here to get a SNAP application for your state and the location of your local SNAP office.


Third, Some Services Also Meet Dietary Restrictions

Many of the ready-to-heat plans and personal chefs can customize meals if your loved one has dietary restrictions. Check plan websites for heart healthy, gluten-free, diabetic, low-sodium, low-carb, menopause, dairy-free, Mediterranean, and vegetarian meal options. Fresh n’ Lean even shows daily and weekly totals for proteins, carbs, fat and calories for meal choices. 


You May Wonder if the Nutrition and Convenience Are Worth the Cost

Are you wondering if these options are too expensive, compared to grocery shopping? People have researched and compared them. They found that it can be less expensive to shop for groceries and prepare meals versus using a meal delivery service or hiring a personal chef. However if your loved one is unable to shop and prepare meals, and you’re unable to do it for them, the convenience can be well worth the extra cost.


Three Takeaways When Considering a Meal Delivery Service

First, determine your loved ones needs and limitations about preparing meals. Can they get to a grocery store? Can they cook? Then, based on that, research meal services online. Check out costs and menu options. Finally, if your loved one has special dietary needs, find meal services that offer recipe options to meet those needs.


You Need All the Help You Can Get

Helping a loved one age in their home can be extremely rewarding, but it also can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. For an aging person, getting nutritious meals can be a challenge. For them, a trip to the grocery store can feel like the grueling trek made by rural Indian shoppers. Meal services may provide the convenience that both you and your loved one will appreciate.


Next Step

Visit your loved one during meal times. Evaluate their ability to prepare the meals and the quality of those meals. During those visits, talk about how often they go shopping and whether it’s easy or difficult for them. If you think they could use some help, mention some advantages of meal services.


1The Messy Business of Selling Meal Kits, The Wall Street Journal, 7/27/18

2How much does a personal chef cost? Chefs for Seniors, 3/9/18

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