What to Know About Senior Nutrition Programs

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on April 12, 2022
5 min read

In the US, food assistance programs are designed to help people in need to access nutritionally balanced food and meals. This includes senior citizens who are on a fixed income. Senior nutrition programs are specially designed for older adults to help them fight food insecurity.

Proper nutrition is one of the keys to overall good health. Because of this, the US government has several programs in place to make sure that people who are struggling financially can have access to healthy food at no extra cost. Food scarcity and hunger affect millions of families in America, in addition to senior citizens who are on a fixed or limited income.

Unfortunately, 1 out of every 6 older adults deals with hunger or food scarcity on a daily basis. This is quite alarming since we know that proper nutrition is crucial at this stage in life. Having a healthy, balanced diet can prevent or delay conditions that are related to poor nutrition in older adults. To meet this need, there are a number of senior food assistance programs that can either help seniors financially or deliver food and meals to their homes.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest program provided by the government to make sure that people in need have access to nutritionally-balanced food. This includes adults over 60 who are on a fixed income. SNAP for seniors, also known as food stamps, is a program that gives extra funds each month so that people can buy groceries. When it comes to older adults, this is especially helpful so that they can budget for other needs, like medical care or household bills and utilities.

Each month, SNAP funds are delivered to recipients through an EBT card. This is like a prepaid debit card that’s reloaded each month and can be used at thousands of stores across the country to buy healthy food and groceries. It’s estimated that 4.8 million adults over the age of 60 are enrolled in the SNAP program. On average, older adults living alone receive about $104 a month from SNAP to boost their food budget. 83% of older adults who receive SNAP benefits live alone on little to no income, so these monthly benefits are crucial when it comes to having access to proper nutrition.

To receive SNAP benefits, you must apply at your local office in your state, as each state has a different application. With your application, you must submit proof of your income and expenses. In about 30 days, your local SNAP office will let you know if your application has been approved or not. During that time, you’ll be called for an eligibility interview as well.

The Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is another senior food assistance program that aims to make healthy foods accessible to older adults. SFMNP helps low-income seniors who are at least 60 years old and whose income is not more than 185% of the federal poverty income guidelines get fresh produce like fruits, vegetables, and herbs. At the same time, its goal is to increase the consumption of these products while supporting businesses like farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community agricultural programs.

The SFMNP program gives states grant money that is then used in areas where it’s most needed to get seniors the healthiest food options available. Seniors get vouchers or coupons that they can cash in for food at participating markets or farm stands, or directly with participating farmers. These vouchers can be used for fresh produce, herbs, and honey.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) is also known as the “senior box program.” Through this program, 619,000 low-income older adults over 60 with incomes less than 130% of the Federal Poverty Line can receive food assistance. The USDA supplies food and funds to participating states and Indian Tribal Organizations that then get handed out to the public or to nonprofit organizations. It’s up to local agencies to provide nutrition education and to determine how to distribute the food and who is eligible to receive it.

The CSFP program creates food packages with foods that are designed to keep seniors strong and healthy and help them fight illnesses. These packages are filled with products that are usually lacking in the diets of those that are facing hunger or food scarcity. Through this program, seniors can hopefully avoid conditions related to hunger or malnourishment that can cause costly trips to the doctor or hospital.

Each CSFP package comes with a selection of:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Juice
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Protein (including plant-based)
  • Grains

Recipients of the program can receive one package a month.

Meals on Wheels is the oldest and probably most well-known senior nutrition program. This program provides more than 1 million meals a day through more than 5,000 participating organizations. Local branches are run by volunteers who serve meals in centers or deliver them directly to people who are homebound.

It’s estimated that 7.4 million adults over 60 live below the poverty line. This, and the fact that many seniors live alone and may not have transportation, makes it difficult for some seniors to have access to healthy food. Older adults that live in poverty twice as likely to have a limited ability to live independently as those that don't.

Meals on Wheels not only helps to deliver food to those in need, but it also helps to fight the negative effects that social isolation can have on older adults. This organization manages congregate nutrition sites that provide seniors with meals and give them the opportunity to socialize and interact with others. Those who are homebound receive frequent, in-person visits from volunteers.

This service is crucial, since 2 out of 3 seniors who receive meals from Meals on Wheels say that this makes up more than half of the food that they eat each day. 8 out of 10 say that they get to see friends and socialize more through congregate meals.

Delivered meals come frozen and are easy to prepare in a conventional or microwave oven. Meals on Wheels also takes special dietary needs into consideration.