Cooking and delivering nutritious meals to older people in their homes

Social Enterprises: A series reviewing endeavours attempting to enhance the lives of people with diverse needs

The variety of food that you can have delivered to your home now has increased hugely in recent years, yet much of what’s on offer wouldn’t suit an older person living alone or caring for a family member with a disability.

The community-based service Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot meals to older people living alone (referred to the scheme by a public health nurse) isn’t available to all older people. So Galway-based organisation Cope Galway, which was already offering Meals on Wheels saw a gap in the market that they could fill.

“Our model arose from our experience of delivering Meals on Wheels,” explains Geraldine Ryan, chef, co-founder and manager of the social enterprise, Meals4Health ( 091-354000). Ryan and her colleagues at Cope Galway (which supports older people, homeless people and those who have suffered domestic abuse) developed a choice of fully cooked meals which are delivered in chilled portion sizes ready to heat up or store in the fridge or freezer.

I couldn’t leave him on his own so it was an advantage for me not to have to cook every day

—  Eileen Glynn

“We all know a neighbour or a family member who no longer cooks for themselves. And, we know that the responsibility of cooking for a family member can change that relationship,” explains Ryan who says that some adult children who don’t live close by order (and sometimes pay) for the food delivered to their elderly parent.


The meals supplied by Meals4Health cost €7/€7.50 per portion for a main course, €3 for soup and €2.50/€3 for dessert. Nutritionally balanced and adaptable to suit specific dietary needs, they can be ordered online or by phoning a staff member each week. The social enterprise delivers meals countrywide.

Eileen Glynn from Co Galway started ordering Meals4Health when she was looking after her husband who had Alzheimer’s disease. “I couldn’t leave him on his own so it was an advantage for me not to have to cook every day. Also, they were able to give us the same meal and liquidised his portion to exactly the right consistency,” explains Glynn. Since her husband died, she continues to get meals delivered one day a week. “It’s very expensive to cook for one person and I particularly enjoy the fish pie as I hate cooking fish as it leaves such a smell in the kitchen,” she says.

Meals4Health promotes the idea of eating well to live well and age well. “It’s not about taking away people’s independence. It’s about maintaining their lives at home so that they can stay semi-independent for longer with supports,” says Ryan.

Some people have arthritis in their wrists and shopping, peeling and chopping would be difficult for them

—  Geraldine Ryan

Leo Smyth has four meals delivered once a week for him and his wife. “I do most of the cooking and it’s handy not to have to cook all the time. Also, I feel that our children don’t worry about us getting malnourished as we are getting protein and vegetables. Many older people survive on tea and toast,” he says.

Ryan says that physical difficulties also prevent some older people from cooking for themselves. “Some people have arthritis in their wrists and shopping, peeling and chopping would be difficult for them,” she explains. It also caters for people who require foods of different textures, following a stroke or those with dental problems.

The social enterprise also offers work opportunities to people on the margins of society. “We have a supported and protected workplace environment so we can help those who have left the labour market because of health or social challenges,” explains Ryan. One paid worker moved out of homelessness into volunteering and on to a community employment scheme to get to where he is now. “He is now a highly valued paid member of staff,” explains Ryan. Some other workers are employed through community employment schemes under probation services. And then, there are several volunteers who work in the kitchen or deliver the food to people’s homes.

Mary Cahalan is a volunteer driver who previously volunteered in the kitchen. “I retired early from work and decided to volunteer one day a week. There was a great buzz working in the kitchen but now I love chatting to people on the doorstep when I deliver their food,” she explains.

We reach about 410 people weekly and we also do a courier service anywhere in Ireland

—  Geraldine Ryan

Cahalan says that the food deliverer can be the only person some people see that day. “Sometimes you come across someone who needs help and you have to call the services. I came across a man who had fallen in his home and I visit him in a nursing home now,” she adds.

Ryan explains that the long-term aim for Meals4Health is to become a fully sustainable business. Set up in 2017, it is part-funded by the Health Service Executive. “We reach about 410 people weekly and we also do a courier service anywhere in Ireland. The model works really well and is transferable to anywhere in the country,” she says.

A research project with dialysis patients at Tallaght University Hospital is looking at how nutritional supports such as those provided by Meals4Health could help people with chronic illnesses living at home.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment