Older adults who live alone often lack the motivation to prepare regular healthy meals. Seniors who no longer drive, or who have mobility issues, may also find making nutritious food for themselves a challenge but are less enthusiastic about senior centers’ meals or home delivery of prepared foods by service organizations. A new program in New Hampshire pairs struggling restaurants with government funding to feed seniors – providing older adults with an opportunity for dining out with others, helping to combat loneliness while enjoying balanced meals.
According to a recent AP U.S. News report, the Dine Out Program helps seniors over 60 access nutritious weekly meals, with flexible timing, at local restaurants in the company of other older adults. During the pandemic, many senior centers that offered dining to the public shut down, and some never reopened leaving a void in the community for isolated seniors. Programs like Meals on Wheels help homebound seniors access nutritious meals but lack the sense of belonging to a group.
The mutually beneficial program helps restaurants struggling to stay open while providing a vital service for seniors. Isolation and loneliness have been found to be a significant risk factor for dementia and overall poorer health outcomes. Enjoying meals with others encourages healthier eating habits, and with special menus for older adults, the program ensures dietary requirements are being met. The meals are offered at no charge to seniors, but donations are encouraged.
Partnerships with local restaurants to provide healthy meals for the changing needs of older adults, who may need flexible timing because they are still working, or caring for grandchildren, can also help to encourage regular socialization. Dining Out Programs also help keep staff working – although the profit margin is generally slim. Donations of a suggested $4 per meal help offset rising food prices and employee pay.