Research on Prepared Meals
In 2019, the Greater Chicago Food Depository partnered with more than 20 local organizations to study the need for prepared meals. Our studies focused on low-income older adults and people with disabilities.
We learned that many people struggling with food insecurity are also having a hard time managing meal preparation, special diets, and insufficient incomes. Interest in receiving nutrition assistance in the form of prepared meals is high, though only under specific conditions. This study built on our previous findings in our 2017 study on disabilities and food insecurity.
Our Partnership with the Mayor’s Office on People with Disabilities
The Food Depository worked with the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) to survey people who receive MOPD’s services. The survey focused on food access limitations and the need for additional prepared meal programming.
Summary of Findings
- Many participants in MOPD programs face food access limitations. People who reported a special diet were most likely to screen at risk for food insecurity. Participants reported making tradeoffs between maintaining a nutritious diet and paying for other essentials like utilities, medical care and transportation.
- The majority of survey takers would be interested in receiving home-delivered meals. More than 80% of respondents expressed interest in a frozen or hot prepared meal program; the vast majority wanting home delivery.
- Healthy prepared meals that support special diets are recommended. While participants have some resources for nutritious meals, there is an opportunity to fill gaps in service.
Our Partnership with the Retirement Research Foundation
Among older adults, food insecurity has significant health consequences. The Food Depository aims to strengthen our programs to meet the needs of this growing population. In 2018 and 2019, the Retirement Research Foundation supported this initial in-depth, mixed-methods assessment of the need for prepared meals among older adults in Cook County.
Sample of Key Findings
- There are critical gaps in existing nutrition programming reaching older adults in need. According to older adults who participated in the study, their needs include greater access to fresh produce and protein items, SNAP benefits, home delivery of food from pantry programs, and prepared meals.
- Individuals reporting difficulty preparing meals on their own are particularly vulnerable to food access limitations. Their risk of food insecurity tends to be more severe than others surveyed. They also reported experiencing poorer health and more loneliness.
- To be successful, a prepared meals service model must meet older adults’ needs and preferences. It must emphasize fresh and healthy meals, they must accommodate special diets, and the program must allow for flexibility and choice. Independence and dignity of service are critical.
- A thoughtful introduction of the prepared meal program can go a long way in increasing service uptake and satisfaction. Outreach and communications materials should emphasize the freshness of the meals; how, where, why, and by whom they are made; and suggestions for how they can be modified to fit participants’ individual tastes.
- Partnerships offer additional opportunities. In addition to working with the Food Depository’s network of food programs, partnering with existing prepared meal programs and health care partners will help us collaboratively balance reaching more older adults with reaching older adults with specific challenges