In an ideal world, everyone would have consistent access to nutritious food that looks, smells and tastes good. Unfortunately, food insecurity is a problem around the world, even in high-income countries like the United States. People struggling with food insecurity don’t have enough food to meet their nutritional needs, making it difficult to maintain active, healthy lives.

According to Feeding America, more than 7.1% of seniors faced hunger in 2019. Many of these individuals live on fixed incomes and are forced to choose between buying food and paying for other necessities. For example, 63% of seniors who visited food banks in 2019 reported that they had to choose between medical care and food. Some older adults also have medical conditions that make it difficult to shop for groceries and prepare nutritious meals at home.

Poor nutrition can lead to a wide range of health consequences, from unintended weight loss to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies. To prevent these problems, government agencies and nonprofit organizations operate programs designed to increase access to nutritious foods and help seniors get the calories they need to stay active. Some of these programs provide ready-made meals, while others offer benefits that can be used to purchase ingredients at grocery stores, farmers’ markets and supermarkets.

This guide provides in-depth information about some of the most comprehensive food and nutrition programs in the United States. You’ll find a detailed description of each program, along with information about how these programs can help stretch your grocery budget or make it easier to obtain nutritious foods. Each listing also has information on program eligibility, making it easier to determine if you qualify for this type of food assistance.

Administration for Community Living: Nutrition Services

If you have difficulty leaving your home due to medical problems or a lack of transportation, you’re not alone. According to the Commonwealth Fund, nearly 2 million American adults aged 65 and over are considered mostly or completely homebound. More than 5 million older adults have difficulty leaving their homes because of functional limitations caused by some type of physical or psychological impairment. For example, seniors with memory loss may not be able to leave their homes without help from an aide or loved one, limiting their ability to shop for groceries.

The Administration for Community Living operates the Senior Nutrition Program, commonly referred to as Meals on Wheels, which offers home-delivered meals to homebound seniors. You may benefit from this program if you’re unable to leave the house and don’t have someone to help you with grocery shopping and meal preparation. If you’re able to leave the house with some assistance, the Senior Nutrition Program also offers nutritious meals at senior centers and other community sites, giving you the opportunity to socialize with others while you have something to eat.

Senior Nutrition Program

The Senior Nutrition Program provides approximately 900,000 meals per day to eligible individuals. Funding comes from government agencies, nonprofit foundations, fundraising and other sources. Participants receive nutritious meals at their homes or in community settings.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(202) 401-4634

At least 60 years old* 

*Age is the only federal requirement, but each state is allowed to set its own guidelines for program eligibility. Check with your local meal provider to determine if you’re eligible.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Adult Day Care Centers

If you live with a loved one, you may have difficulty preparing meals or performing other activities of daily living when they’re at work and unavailable to help. That’s why so many older adults now use the services of adult day care centers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these centers serve more than 250,000 participants per day. In addition to providing supervision and opportunities for socialization, some adult day care centers participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, increasing access to nutritious foods.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program reimburses eligible adult day care centers for providing healthy meals and snacks to attendees. If you can’t prepare your own meals during the day, consider attending an adult day program to increase your access to healthy food. 

Child and Adult Care Food Program

The CACFP program reimburses adult day care centers for providing nutritious meals and snacks to adults aged 60 and older, along with younger adults who have physical or mental impairments. Participating adult day care centers must follow the program’s nutrition guidelines to qualify for reimbursement. Breakfast must include fruits and/or vegetables, milk and grains. Lunch and dinners may include poultry, lean meats, fish, cheese, yogurt, milk, nut seed butter, eggs and tofu.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(703) 305-2062

At least 60 years of age; younger people may qualify if they have physical or mental impairments

Enrolled in a participating adult day care program

Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

Even if you require no assistance with grocery shopping or preparing meals, it can be difficult to get the right amount of nutrients if you live on a fixed income. Due to rising costs, many seniors skip meals or reduce their portion sizes to ensure they have enough money left over for housing, medical care and other expenses. Poor nutrition increases your risk for several chronic health conditions, making it important to seek out supplemental assistance from a variety of sources.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program increases access to nutritious foods by giving older adults packages containing fruits, vegetables, legumes and protein foods. In lay terms, a commodity is a food item derived from agricultural crops and animals. In 2022, the CSFP food list contains more than 3 dozen items, including peanut butter, canned chicken, beef stew, fruit juices, carrots, spinach and a variety of beans. If you qualify for the CSFP, you can use these foods to stretch your grocery budget. For example, if you receive beef stew in your food package, you can eat it with a side of vegetables and an inexpensive dinner roll for a complete meal.

Commodity Supplemental Food Program

The CSFP provides a monthly food package to eligible seniors, expanding access to nutritious foods. Packages may include produce, legumes and foods high in protein.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(202) 645-6087

At least 60 years old

Reside in a participating state or on a participating Indian reservation*

Household income at or below 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL)

*These are federal requirements. Participating states may require applicants to live in a specific service area or meet the definition of someone who’s at nutritional risk. 

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

Food insecurity is a major problem throughout the United States, but it’s especially concerning for people who live on tribal lands. Less than one-third of people on Indian reservations live within 1 mile of a supermarket, making it more difficult to access nutritious foods. Additionally, nearly 50% of the people living on tribal reservations live in households that are at or below 200% of the FPL.

According to the Indian Health Service, American Indians also have lower health status when compared to other Americans, which may make it more difficult for older adults on tribal reservations to shop for food or prepare healthy meals. If you live on tribal lands and have difficulty preparing meals or paying for food, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations can help by providing fruits, vegetables, soups, dairy products, legumes and grains.

Many participants rely on the FDPIR instead of applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because it’s difficult for people on Indian reservations to visit SNAP offices or access stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchases and ships food to state agencies and Indian tribal organizations. It’s up to these organizations to store the food and determine who qualifies for FDPIR benefits.

Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations

The FDPIR offers monthly food packages to eligible participants. Each package contains commodity food items that can be used to supplement your diet.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(703) 305-2060

Must reside on an Indian reservation, in an approved area near a reservation or in approved areas in Oklahoma

Must have at least one household member who's a member of a federally recognized tribe (if living in Oklahoma or an approved area near a reservation)

Can't receive SNAP benefits and FDPIR benefits in the same month

Income not to exceed the SNAP net monthly income standard plus the SNAP standard deduction

Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Programs

Older Americans Act (OAA) nutrition programs are available under the Senior Nutrition Program offered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. As explained above, the Senior Nutrition Program increases access to nutritious foods by providing home-delivered meals and meals served in community settings. Passed in 1965, the Older Americans Act established the Administration on Aging and made grant funds available to states for aging-related social services, community planning and research projects. In 2020, the OAA was reauthorized, making additional resources available to help state agencies address current challenges affecting older Americans.

The two components of the Senior Nutrition Program under the OAA are the Congregate Nutrition Program and the Home-Delivered Nutrition Program. Under the Congregate Nutrition Program, senior centers and other community organizations receive funds to provide nutritious meals to older adults. In February 2022, the Administration for Community Living reported that 53% of participants receive at least half of their total food for the day from the Congregate Nutrition Program.

Under the Home-Delivered Nutrition Services Program, nutritious meals are delivered to seniors who are homebound or considered frail or isolated. If a participant is married, their spouse may also qualify to receive meals from this program. More than 75% of participants believe that the Home-Delivered Nutrition Services Program helps them eat healthier, and nearly 90% report that the program helps them continue to live independently.

Congregate Nutrition Program

The Congregate Nutrition Program gives eligible participants access to nutritious meals at senior centers and other community sites. Participants also have the opportunity to socialize, reducing the risk of isolation.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(202) 401-4634

At least 60 years old*

The Home-Delivered Nutrition Services Program

The Home-Delivered Nutrition Services Program delivers nutritious meals to homebound seniors and older adults who are considered frail or isolated.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

(202) 401-4634

At least 60 years old*

*Age is the only federal requirement, but each state is allowed to set its own guidelines for program eligibility. Check with your local meal provider to determine if you’re eligible.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) 

Many seniors struggle to pay for everything they need to stay safe and healthy, making high prices a major barrier to accessing nutritious foods. In February 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for supermarket and grocery store food purchases had increased by 1.4% from the previous month and 8.6% from the previous year.

Some seniors are also finding it difficult to find high-quality fruits and vegetables due to the effects of climate change on the agriculture industry. Natural disasters are becoming more frequent, damaging crops and leaving growers with less product to distribute. In the Southwest region of the United States, drought conditions have made it difficult for farmers to keep their crops healthy.

Climate change has also lengthened the growing season, which may be beneficial at some point but has only made it more difficult for farmers to know when to plant their crops and harvest them to maximize quality. Finally, warmer weather has increased the number of pests coming into contact with crops, causing widespread damage. If you live in an area impacted by these changes, you may have trouble finding high-quality fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store.

For seniors affected by any of these problems, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program helps by providing access to fruits, vegetables, herbs and local honey. Funded by the Farm Bill, the SFMNP distributes coupons to eligible seniors. These coupons can be used at farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture programs and roadside stands. Not only does the SFMNP increase access to nutritious foods, but it also increases the consumption of agricultural products, helping producers generate more revenue. If you qualify for the SFMNP, you can use the items you purchase to supplement what’s already in your refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, warding off hunger and increasing your intake of essential nutrients.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

The Senior Farmers’ Marketing Nutrition Program is administered at the state level, giving eligible seniors access to fresh foods sold by local farmers. Use the online directory to find contact information for your state.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

N/A

At least 60 years old

Income of no more than 185% of the FPL

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

If you meet certain income requirements, you may qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as “food stamps.” SNAP benefits are intended as a supplement to your normal food budget, giving you a little more freedom to choose nutritious foods that meet your preferences. The SNAP program covers a wide variety of foods, including breads, cereals, fruits, poultry, vegetables, meats and dairy products. You can also use SNAP benefits to buy seeds that will be used to produce food. For example, you can buy carrot or tomato seeds, but your SNAP benefits won’t cover seeds for roses or chrysanthemums since they’re ornamental flowers.

Benefits are issued on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which can be used just like a regular credit or debit card when you check out at the grocery store. Some online retailers also accept SNAP benefits, making it easier to order hard-to-find items. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP provides a monthly supplement to help eligible participants purchase nutritious foods. The program has special guidelines for older adults, making it easier to qualify if you’re aged 60 or older. You can use SNAP benefits to buy many foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meat and poultry.

Sponsor

Contact

Eligibility

N/A

At least 60 years old

Income not to exceed the limit set by your state SNAP program

No more than $3,750 in countable resources

Because each state has its own guidelines, SNAP benefits aren’t distributed to every participant on the same day each month. Depending on how your state operates its program, your issue date may be based on your Social Security number, last name or case number. For example, Hawaii issues SNAP benefits on the third and fifth of every month. Participants with last names starting with A through I receive their benefits on the third, while those with last names beginning with J through Z receive theirs on the fifth. Large states with many participants may issue benefits on 10 or more days of the month. SNAP benefits are administered at the state level, and several states have created their own names for the program. The directory below contains program information for each state.

State

Program Name

Food Assistance Program

SNAP

Nutrition Assistance

SNAP

CalFresh

SNAP

Food Supplement Program

SNAP

Food Stamp Program

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

Food Assistance Program

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

Food Assistance Program

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

Food & Nutrition Services

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

SNAP

3SquaresVT

SNAP

Basic Food Program

FoodShare

SNAP

Meals on Wheels

For some seniors, getting enough food to eat is only one piece of the puzzle. Many older adults are at risk of social isolation due to mental health problems and medical conditions that make it difficult to leave the house and see other people. Meals on Wheels combats this problem by providing home-delivered meals to eligible seniors in each service area. Volunteers deliver meals regularly, giving participants the opportunity to interact with other people more often. 

There are more than 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs throughout the United States. These programs are independently run, meaning the services available and accompanying eligibility requirements may vary based on your location. Organizations participating in Meals on Wheels typically deliver one hot meal per day as well as cold items, such as sandwiches for lunch.As an example of what the program offers, Meals on Wheels Albuquerque provides free and reduced-cost meals to seniors with limited incomes. The organization also offers paid meals for homebound seniors who can afford to pay but have trouble leaving their homes due to mobility problems or a lack of transportation. Participants have the option of receiving a hot meal each day or getting a week’s worth of frozen meals in a single delivery. In some areas, Meals on Wheels provides additional services, such as pet food delivery, transportation and home repairs.

Program Name

Contact

Eligibility

Description

(888) 998-6325

Eligibility requirements vary by provider, but Meals on Wheels typically serves adults aged 60 and older who have difficulty grocery shopping, preparing food and socializing with other people.

Meals on Wheels provides home-delivered meals to eligible seniors. With every delivery, the participant has an opportunity to socialize, reducing the risk of isolation. Volunteers also conduct safety checks when delivering meals, ensuring that participants get help when they need it most.

Click on your state in the section below to find Meals on Wheels providers near you.

State-by-State Guides to Government Food Programs

Find your state below to read a comprehensive guide on available food assistance programs in your state.

Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in California

Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in California

Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in Texas

Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in Texas

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Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in West Virginia

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Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in North Dakota

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Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in Alaska

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Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in Vermont

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Other Food Resources for Low-Income Seniors in Wyoming