Older Americans Act Nutrition Programs Evaluation: Meal Cost Analysis

Publisher: Cambridge, MA: Mathematica Policy Research
Sep 25, 2015
Authors
Jessica Ziegler, Nicholas Redel, Linda Rosenberg, and Barbara Carlson

Key Findings:

  • It costs more, on average, to provide a home-delivered meal ($11.06) than it does to provide a congregate meal ($10.69). These total average costs account for both the cost of purchased resources and the value of donated resources.
  • Meal costs vary by program characteristics. It costs less, on average, to produce meals at a central kitchen, and it costs less, on average, for large programs and programs in the South to prepare meals. Congregate meals served in urban areas cost less, on average, than those served in suburban and rural or frontier areas, and home-delivered meals delivered by LSPs that operate in rural areas cost less than those delivered by LSPs that operate in suburban or urban areas.
  • Average meal costs are outpacing inflation, probably because food costs are increasing faster than inflation. 

The NSP, administered by the AOA within the Administration for Community Living (ACL) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) under the Older Americans Act (OAA), represents a key component of America’s strategy for ensuring that the health and social needs of older adults are adequately met. Every day, millions of older Americans receive a nutritious meal at a senior center or congregate meal site as part of the NSP. Many others consume a home-delivered meal provided by the program. 

The primary objective of the AOA Nutrition Programs Evaluation meal cost analysis was to address two key research questions: (1) What are the average costs of a congregate and a home-delivered meal provided under the NSP? and (2) Do these average costs vary by how meals are prepared or by other program characteristics? Answers to these questions enable NSP-funded programs to assess their own costs compared to those of other similar sites and provide AOA with information on which approaches are most cost-effective and under what circumstances.