catering for the elderly

Joined Aug 18, 2016
I'm an RN and have an idea of making healthy, good meals and delivering them to elderly people and people with disabilities. I currently work in a long term care facility and the food there has a lot to be desired. Food for many of these people, is one of the last pleasures they have, and the food is not pleasurable. (Sometimes not edible). My thought would be to make meals and deliver to residents of long term care, as well as people in the home. What are your thoughts on how to begin?

I'm not a chef, but can cook good Southern food, (without the added salt and pork fat) that would be pleasing to the eye, delicious, and healthy. 

Many of the people I take care of don't eat because the food is not what they were accustomed to. I feel that, for these people, good tasting, healthy food would increase their quality of life as well as nutrition. 

Many family members bring in food to the facility.  Some of it is fast food. Some is home cooked. I know that family members take food to their loved one's home, also. My proposal, is to make simple but delicious meals. These meals would comply with the person's health needs, such as low salt, or sugar free, be delivered by our service, and be affordable. 

I even thought of helping people who do not have the finances for delivered meals, by stating that for each meal bought by a family member, a percentage would go to those who could not afford the service. 

My goal would be to create a fulfilling business for my husband and myself, by improving the quality of life for our weakest population. I don't know what the start up costs would be, or even how to start. I'm sure that there are many things to starting a business like this that I would never have thought of. Is there anyone that could give me advice, tips, or resources for this endeavor?
Joined Jan 31, 2012
What you propose sounds similar to MealsOnWheels.
And memory is nagging me that we had a whole discussion
on this very thing sometime last year. (anyone else remember it?)
I'll look for it.
Meanwhile, welcome to Cheftalk Satartia. :)
Joined May 5, 2010
Welcome Satartia.

If you are planning this as a business for income your going to have to have a business license, as well as liability insurance.

You'll have to cook in a place that is approved by the city where you live.

Also you'll have to be certified in sanitation.

And this is just the beginning.

People can bring food made at home to the elderly where they are but you can not if you are running this as a business.

Good luck and let us know what happens.
Joined Jul 28, 2001

      I think you thoughts and idea are commendable.

This concept has been tried many times. Pros: if successful-very rewarding

                                                                 Cons, To produce income so that you and your husband can live on, you would need a 

business plan. due diligence in the food industry is exhausting although doable. Now a days you cannot rely on word of mouth to gain successes. The business usually will not come to you, you have to seek it out.

  An important element for profit is an immutable pricing structure.   

One big obstacle I see is to identify a target audience with the same financial demographics. I'm not quite sure how you develop an algorithm to achieve that.

  Just some first thoughts. Not meant to discourage.

oh BTW, I understand your have dietary knowledge but I would certainly have a medical dietician secured just for liability issues.
Joined Jun 23, 2015
If the food is not edible the facility should be reported to the proper authority.  The idea is commendable.  Can the elderly you are serving afford what you propose? Will the facility allow "catered food" delivered to  the residents?  It does sound something like meals on wheels.  I am of an age where many friends have been inmates in long and short term care facilities.  Many of them did not care about healthy food.  One disabled friend has started smoking again because she wants to enjoy her last days.  I know this sounds cynical but who really wants to play bingo and do crafts while giving all their children's inheritance to the medical profession?  Welcome to Chef Talk.  If you do decide to get started this  community will do all they can to help.  Replace cynicism with humor, I'm not sure you can cook good southern food without pork fat.   
Joined Dec 18, 2010
Like the earlier posts I want to be supportive. It is important for you, however, to do some market research. There are a number (lots, actually) of business like the one you are considering, but are focused on elderly/infirmed who are living at home rather than in a care facility.. at least in my major metropolitan area. Most differ from Meals on Wheels in that they are not subsidized or charities, but intend to be profitable businesses. Those seem to cater to the "high end" private clients and are either priced very high or are, surprisingly, moderately priced. Some are even quite distant and do business via the post by shipping frozen product.

Here's a view from the consumer side, which I have recent experience. We use such services for an elderly family member. Here are some of the issues we deal "with Mom": Adherence to a diversity of diets is crucial yet the meals need to skillfully disguise that fact. Low salt food somehow needs to not taste like bland tasteless no-salt "hospital" food. The service needs to have a large variety or it "gets old" fast. Reheating instructions need to be clear and correct (little things like adjusting microwave strength vs heating time seems to be a challenge for both the elderly and caregivers). The service needs to be reliable... as in ABSOLUTELY RELIABLE

And the last thought I have to share goes back to menu.  As weird as this seems, we run into problems every week with menus that are too "modern" or too "ethnic" or too "restaurant-y" or "not like I once cooked. Specifically we have issues with getting Mom to ingest roughage. She refuses to eat "hard, uncooked vegetables".  No amount of discussion of the difference between al dente and overcooked seems to resolve this. She wants them to be boiled until soft, and as close to canned-like as possible. GOOD LUCK!

Other issues that tend to be a challenge on "the other side" - contract vs no-contract services. Shipping/delivery charges.  Adaptability to menu choices after ordering but prior to shipping/delivery (sometimes a menu is selected but the next day Mom changes her mind and decides that she's been eating too much pasta and wants meatloaf).

If you can find the formula for success I'm quite sure that there are folks with the need. Whatever you do, make contact with the local hospitals or elder care agencies and get listed on their meal service referral lists.
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Joined Feb 8, 2009
I don't think many elders are complaining at upscale senior living facilities. The more you pay the better the food. That being said everything in this world falls into in with "how much are you willing to pay" for what you get. I chefed in a Hospital for two years and had a lot of fun doing so. I learned a lot about diet and healthy food prep. I tried my best to make all the meals as tasty as possible so as to make the hospital stay better for the patients. In taking this a step further with catering to seniors, the problem I see is their changing tastes as they get older. My father-in-law loved when we made Nachos and brought them over to him. The reason he loved them was because they were full of flavor. The nachos kind of kick started and blew the mind of his taste buds. Now take a chix breast with a bit of seasoning a side of starch and veggie and try to get the same result. Good food ain't cheep and cheep food ain't good. It takes a lot of knowledge to cook a lot of varieties of food items to taste real good. If you take salt and fat out of food you need to replace it with other bold satisfying flavors. When I make a braised arm roast and send a plate over to a 90 YO lady down the street she brags about it for days. The meat is tender, the gravy is full of flavor, whats not to like.The meal is easy to eat and gives her what she doesn't get from meal on wheels (FLAVOR). I think you have a wonderful caring approach to wanting to help make someones day better. I think it's also real hard to accomplish. You maybe better served my opening a "Home cooked meal" business that would cater to everyone. You could offer entrees that would cater to families and seniors to be picked up by family members. You can also offer restaurant style salads. I feel many people eat out because it's easier. The family meal doesn't happen like it did in years past. You could offer meals like homemade meat loaf, mashed potatoes gravy and veggie, rolls butter and dessert for families. You may not want to totally concern yourself with senior diets and maybe look at giving them flavor and correct portion sizes. All this being said, if you are thinking of offering a meal delivery service there's to much cost involved. It would be almost impossible to offer this kind of service without being subsidized.......Good luck........ChefBill.........P.S. When it comes to diets and the elderly they have two things going against them. When people are making their food more bland their taste buds are less than they use to be. If a person wants to help make their lives better, then think of enhancing the flavor even more than what it was from their younger years.
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Joined Jun 27, 2012
Some good answers.

Anyway you look at this you will need an inspected and licensed kitchen of some sort (try looking into incubator kitchens) and will require some serious cash to set things up.

I was wondering how to make your idea work (ever since you posted this thread...even took it to bed last nite lol) and signed on this am to @ChefBillyB  who had hit it out of the park (as per usual lol ;-)

Trying to sell to one very difficult to please group like the elderly would be out of price range for most of your potential customers (I don't like it but ya gotta face the fact that most are on bare sustenance incomes) but to start off with a larger target group and then just scale down and/or alter the meal to fit in the special needs diets makes way more sense.

To take it a step further set up one day a week for pick ups (delivery costs would just crush your profits) and things start making sense.

Cook hard for a couple of up meals...have set times for pick up...and boom.

You are done for the week.

One other thing... @satartia  you didn't mention what sort of facility you work in but aren't most of them dependent on the Medicare rules and regs in order to maintain their license?

I did ER case management for a few years and from what little contact I had (trying to get a patient released to a facility or group home) it was hard enuf just to find a bed for some of these forgotten members of society....pretty sure if I started asking about the amenities I would get an earful of hysterical laughter and

I had to take a three day test for a certification in order to just TALK to them...cannot imagine what you would have to go thru to actually be a purveyor for meals.

Maybe could you think about just getting contracts to run the kitchens in one or two and take a more back door approach?

You are very sweet to be so concerned....kudos.

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Joined Jun 27, 2012
One more thing.

Look into personal cheffing.

From what I hear the rules are a bit more lax (altho there are rules) as you buy the ingredients and take them straight to your family's home and do the cooking there.

This way you can bypass the whole licensed kitchen part.

Maybe you could set up an account where donations could be made and apply to a few shut in's accounts and still "make a difference".

There are a few threads on CT re PC'ing  just use the search function.

Joined Jan 31, 2012
Mimi i cant find that one from a few months ago where someone
proposed a similar endeavor. Do you remember it? :(
Joined Jun 27, 2012
Mimi i cant find that one from a few months ago where someone
proposed a similar endeavor. Do you remember it? /img/vbsmilies/smilies/frown.gif
No but I really tried!

This is such a tight niche and fairly new as well was wondering what sort of answers we came up with.

Maybe @satartia  will push all her chips in and let us know the outcome..... whatcha say satartia /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif  ?

Joined Jul 28, 2001
Hey Mimi,

  Won't fly under Texas cottage law. Although all agencies/inspectors are barred from entering your home cottage kitchen unless there is a complaint lodged.

 One problem with delivery of fresh food is that the perishable window starts as soon as the food leaves the cooler. The window can't be renewed. All  future time is

added to the original window start.

  I had a similar experience as Silver Pantry. Before 2008 I had a separate production kitchen for wholesaling to retail customers.

My opinion is that In Texas it basically comes down to your tax status. We did produce and deliver some potentially hazardous foods "for profit". Whether fresh or frozen

it took me from a production kitchen to a manufacturing kitchen. So that kitchen resulted in a plethora of hurdles to clear. The manufacturing permit is generated and is

overseen by the state, eliminating local supervision.

   State inspector visited frequently, sometimes weekly. 

  Some examples of required documentation readily available besides the physical inspection. Ingredients labels in descending order. Nutritional information.

Weight label, important because that's also falls under the Weights and Measures agency. Packaging with approved materials, confirmation that all this information

has been delivered to the purchaser so they can have it in their files, and on and on.

  One big difference I did find was that the manufacturing inspectors were very knowledgeable and consistent with their interpretation of the FDA guidelines.

Everyone of them visited with the intention of helping and supporting us, rather than critiquing us.

  Unfortunately after 2008 my convention business dropped off some, and all the required time I had to direct towards that operation was just didn't seem to be enough compensation

for all.

I shut it down and absorbed all employees into our retail operations.

  Does this make any sense? I'm a bit distracted by finally getting to last years tax returns.:>)  It's hard to believe the amount of unpaid hours I spend working for the government.

Performing their investigation of employees legal status, collecting their taxes that customers and employees incur and are responsible for. Deciphering, calculating, documenting, and reporting all your findings with the collected funds. Employee debt collection (state workers comp)

    Lord knows if they think you have made a mistake. You're guilty until you spend more unpaid hours to prove yourself innocent. 


Joined Aug 18, 2016
I think the food squeaks by as far as regulations go. But residents don't really want over cooked broccoli and chicken tenders, or heavily salted chicken soup. I know that food can be healthy as well as taste good, and be pleasing to the eye. Who wants their food served on stainless steal plates with a faded maroon cover. I actually cook good southern food with no added salt, and very little fat. Ok, butter is really good in mashed potatoes, and some smoked turkey can add a lot of flavor to some collards. But all in all, many substitutes can be used in cooking southern food to make it more healthy. And no, residents probably don't care if it is healthy, but their family members do. And so does the doctor taking care of them. From that standard I've been looking into programs to become a licensed Registered Dietitian. That way I would have the training. 

This is a very rural area and the mean income is fairly low when compared to the rest of the United States. Not sure yet if we could provide the service and have an income. I'm researching what insurance may pay for. Still in the beginning stages of the idea.
Joined Aug 18, 2016
Here is another thing that I though of, when the subject of a licensed kitchen came up. What about partnering with a kitchen that is already set up; as in a restaurant or maybe a church kitchen. My thought is to rent a kitchen on the off times and use it to cook the meals. As I said, this is a very rural area and businesses or churches may like the extra income. Maybe the thought of delivery would be too expensive, given the area we would have to cover. 

We are not really looking into mail order food (yuck). But freshly made food. And food from the available resources we have in our area. There is a local farmer's market that sells in bulk. The resident's I take care of can get food from anywhere they please (or have access to). Some have families bring in fast food. Some families bring home cooked food when they can. These are by far the exceptions to the rule. Of course, there are people who are still at home that might benefit from a local service. 

Gosh, it seems that food is such a basic part of our existence. It affects us physically and psychologically. It doesn't have to be fancy, just look good, and taste good, and probably be what the person is used to eating, including comfort food. Growing up in the South, I think I know what people like. I also know that some of the not so healthy recipes can be altered (a little) to be more healthy and adhere to the type of diet prescribed by their provider. 
Joined Jan 31, 2012
Well using or renting time from an established, health dept
approved kitchen, such as a banquet hall, church etc, is a common
practice in catering. The technical term is a commisary. Its an agreement
between the caterer and kitchen owner, the health department is
then advised by the caterer and the licensing process completed,
as a legal caterer.
I would really advise that you check with your state and county public
health departments to see what is required for what you wish to do.
Joined Oct 31, 2012
I can't offer the same knowledgeable wisdom as the others. But you mentioned partnering with an existing kitchen like a church. In my area, many churches and other organizations like the Knights of Columbus and others have commercial kitchens and put on dinners, be it spaghetti, BBQ, meatloaf, or what have you; usually one day a week or month. When I attend them, I notice many of the attendees take the food to go, either to eat at home or bring to someone.

     So it occurred to me that you could use the kitchen to prepare the meals but the families and volunteers would take care of the delivery.

You could give the nursing homes and resident facilities notice of what you are doing and of course, word of mouth would spread quickly. So as you mentioned, you pay the the church or organization rent for the space, they handle the code requirements and licensing and delivery takes care of itself. As a rural community, families would come to rely on knowing when you will be open and can plan accordingly. I'm sure there must be numerous groups you could get involved for the volunteer delivery part.  

Some nights could be delivery only, other nights you could have the in-house seating areas open. 
Joined Jul 28, 2001
I think the food squeaks by as far as regulations go.  And no, residents probably don't care if it is healthy, but their family members do. And so does the doctor taking care of them. From that standard I've been looking into programs to become a licensed Registered Dietitian. That way I would have the training. 

This is a very rural area and the mean income is fairly low when compared to the rest of the United States. Not sure yet if we could provide the service and have an income. I'm researching what insurance may pay for. Still in the beginning stages of the idea.
I agree, food probably squeaks by the regulations. I visit a couple of my former Chefs regularly. Each is in a different assisted living facility. One upscale and a little more private, the other is Medicare  driven.

I can't remember the last time I visited either one and did not have food/meals with me. I either bring it from home or stop off  to pick up something. I try to stop at all the new places when they open.

They both enjoy that immensely. It takes them back. We eat, and then comes the critiques and the speculations as to whether the place is going to make it or not.

   I think you are right there. Especially the mention of income.

I personally think the squeaks may stop when the source of the food is from a 'for profit' venue. To serve food to the public for profit I think you enter the business realm. That venue comes with

a whole lot of baggage as mentioned above.

  You mentioned family and doctors. I think the issue of liabilities would be your major hurdle.

  I'm not trying to be negative towards your idea, trust me. Both of my Chefs have no local family. It really saddens me that both have succumb to eating mediocre food. Totally opposite food personality from when they mentored me.

 I have been making and selling food to the public for profit all my life. That's the only reason I post to you. Know that I am always available to you with support. Personal messaging also works well for communication.

  I think you have a good idea. It will happen if you really want it to happen. There is always a way to climb a mountain. I have witnessed ideas that seem impossible to attain. The dedicated ones get support from all different sources. Mentors, Angels, Out of the box investors/support, etc.

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