Nutrition Services

Celebrating the National Senior Nutrition Program: Learn More

Through the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program, ACL’s Administration on Aging (AoA) provides grants to states to help support nutrition services for older people throughout the country.

These services include both home-delivered meals and healthy meals served in group settings,  such as senior centers and faith-based locations.  In addition, the programs provide a range of services including nutrition screening, assessment, education, and counseling. Nutrition services also provide an important link to other supportive in-home and community-based supports such as homemaker and home-health aide services, transportation, physical activity and chronic disease self-management programs, home repair and modification, and falls prevention programs.


Eligibility for these programs is determined almost entirely by states and local entities. The only federal eligibility criteria for participation is age – a person must be at least 60 years old to participate in either the congregate or home-delivered nutrition programs. 

In addition, Section 339 of the Older Americans Act expands eligibility to spouses (of any age) of older adults, and creates the option for programs to offer meals to the following:

  • People who provide volunteer services during meal hours

  • People with disabilities who live in housing facilities where mainly older adults live and which also provide congregate nutrition services

  • People with disabilities who reside with eligible older adults

  • Spouses (of any age) of people age 60 or older 

Purpose of the OAA Nutrition Program

Nutrition services are authorized under Title III-C of the OAA. Designed to promote the general health and well-being of older individuals, the services are intended to:

  • Reduce hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition of older adults
  • Promote socialization of older individuals
  • Promote the health and well-being of older people 
    • by assisting them in gaining access to nutrition and other disease prevention and health promotion services
    • to delay the onset of adverse health conditions resulting from poor nutritional health or sedentary behavior

Services are not intended to reach every individual in the community. Programs target adults age 60 and older who are in greatest social and economic need, with particular attention to the following groups.

  • Low-income older adults
  • Minority older individuals
  • Older adults in rural communities
  • Older individuals with limited English proficiency
  • Older adults at risk of institutional care

About 5,000 providers together serve more than 900,000 meals a day in communities across the country.

Nutrition Programs are funded (in part) by AoA, which administers the OAA. They are also funded by:

  • State and local governments,
  • Foundations,
  • Direct payment for services,
  • Fundraising,
  • Program participants’ voluntary contributions (time and/or money), and
  • Other sources.

Congregate Nutrition Services (OAA Section 331, sometimes called C1)

The Congregate Nutrition Services section of the OAA authorizes meals and related nutrition services in congregate settings, which help to keep older Americans healthy and prevent the need for more costly medical interventions. In addition to serving healthy meals, the program presents opportunities for social engagement, information on healthy aging, and meaningful volunteer roles, all of which contribute to an older individual’s overall health and well-being.

The Congregate Nutrition program serves individuals age 60 and older, and in some cases, their caregivers, spouses, and/or persons with disabilities.

Data from the 2019 National Survey of OAA Participants illustrates that Congregate Nutrition Programs are effectively targeting their services:

  • 57 percent of participants are 75 years or older, compared to 30 percent of the US population over 60 years old
  • 55 percent of participants indicated that one congregate meal provides one-half or more of their total food for the day
  • 43 percent of participants live alone, compared to 24 percent of the US population over 60 years old
  • 68 percent of participants report the program helped them remain in their home
  • 69 percent of participants believe their health has improved as a result of a lunch program
  • 71 percent of participants say they eat healthier because of a meal program
  • 89 percent of participants rate the meal as good to excellent

Home-Delivered Nutrition Services (OAA Section 336, sometimes called C2)

The Home-Delivered Nutrition Services of the OAA authorizes meals and related nutrition services for older individuals and their spouses of any age. Home-delivered meals are often the first in-home service that an older adult receives, and the program is a primary access point for other home- and community-based services.

The program often serves frail, homebound, or isolated individuals who are age 60 and over, and in some cases, their caregivers, and/or persons with disabilities.

The 2019 data from the National Survey of OAA Participants illustrates how the Home-Delivered Nutrition Programs are effectively targeting services:

  • 58 percent of participants live alone, compared to 24 percent of the US population over 60 years old
  • 58 percent of participants are 75 years or older, compared to 30 percent of the US population over 60 years old
  • 61 percent of participants indicate that a home-delivered meal provides one-half or more of their total food for the day
  • 50 percent of participants report having difficulty going outside the home (for example to shop or visit a doctor's office)
  • 91 percent of participants rate the meal as good to excellent.
  • 83 percent of participants say they eat healthier because of a meal program
  • 88 percent of participants report the program helped them remain in their home

The Nutrition Services Incentive Program of the OAA provides grants to states, territories, and eligible Tribal organizations to support the Congregate and Home-Delivered Nutrition Programs by providing an incentive to serve more meals. Grantees can choose to receive their grant as cash, commodities (food), or a combination of cash and commodities.  Please note that the only NSIP requirements a provider must follow are in the OAA, Section 311.  Previous guidance provided by other federal agencies is no longer required.

Innovations in Nutrition Programs and Services

Since 2017, AoA has funded “Innovations in Nutrition” grants that support the testing and documentation of innovative and promising practices. The goal of this program is to enhance the quality, effectiveness, and proven outcomes of nutrition services within the aging services network. Successful grants awarded under this program must have the potential for broad implementation throughout the aging services network and have demonstrated value, i.e., improvements in participant well-being, cost savings, etc. Innovations must target services to underserved older adults with greatest social and economic need, and individuals at risk for institutional placement, to permit such individuals to remain in home and community-based settings as indicated in the OAA.

Learn more about innovation grants and grantees

Federal Grants for Nutrition Services

AoA issues grants for Congregate Nutrition Services and Home-Delivered Nutrition Services programs to states using a formula (Section 304) defined in the OAA. The formula is largely based on each state’s share of the U.S. population aged 60 and older.

AoA issues grants for the Nutrition Services Incentive Program to states, territories, and Tribal organizations using a formula (Section 311) defined in the OAA. The formula is based on the entity’s percentage of the total number of meals served in the prior federal fiscal year. For more information on the federal funding, see Funding Allocations to States and Tribal Organizations.

Nutrition Quality Standards

The OAA requires that all meals served using OAA funds adhere to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, provide a minimum of one-third of the Dietary Reference Intakes, meet state and local food safety and sanitation requirements, and be appealing to older adults.

Because services are state administered, each State Unit on Aging has the responsibility and authority (OAA Section 305) to implement the nutritional standards (OAA Section 339) to best meet the needs of the older adults that they serve. For example, a state may choose to use its funds to provide meals that focus nutrient standards or prevalent statewide chronic disease(s) or predominant health issues affecting older individuals. In practice, some states may require that menus for meals served using OAA funds be developed using nutrient analysis, eating patterns, or a combination.

Benefits of the Nutrition Program: A Research Brief

Older Americans Benefit from the OAA Nutrition Program (PDF, 385KB)

This research brief discusses findings from AoA’s recent National Survey of OAA Participants. It describes program requirements; the at-risk population served; and the link between nutrition, health, and the ability of older adults to remain at home. The brief also discusses participants’ perceptions of the impact of nutrition services on their quality of life.

Performance and Outcome Information

AoA collects and reports on the performance of all OAA programs through the State Program Reports (SPR) component of ACL’s National Aging Program Information System. SPR serve as a critical measure of each OAA program’s performance. AoA uses the reported information for a variety of purposes, including its Congressional Justification. In practice, states may choose to access the SPR for intrastate or interstate comparisons. For example, a state may want to know if it is serving more or fewer home-delivered nutrition program participants than another state. For this type of data query, visit AGing, Independence, and Disability (AGID) Program Data Portal. For information on national or state-specific performance outcome information, visit SPR. States, Area Agencies on Aging, or providers seeking to develop measures to assess their own program’s performance are encouraged to visit the Performance Outcome Measurement Project (POMP).

Programmatic Evaluation

ACL conducted a three-part evaluation of its Title III-C OAA Nutrition Services Program.

Additional issue briefs and reports from this evaluation include:

  • An issue brief that describes the nutritional quality of congregate and home-delivered meals offered through the NSP and examines their compliance with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were in effect at the time of the data collection.
  • A report that describes NSP participants’ needs, frequency of program use, and participation in other programs and use of services.
  • An issue brief that examines the social activities at congregate meal sites and the role of those activities in improving socialization outcomes for participants.
  • An issue brief that describes the types of foods that NSP participants consumed as part of the program and examines differences between participants and nonparticipants in foods consumed over 24 hours.
  • An issue brief that identifies key food sources of sodium, saturated fat, empty calories, and refined grains in the diets of NSP participants and examines differences between participants and nonparticipants.

More materials related to the evaluation can be found on the Programs and Evaluations Reports webpage.

National Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging

The National Resource Center on Nutrition and Aging (NRCNA) - – also known as the Nutrition and Aging Resource Center – is one of many ACL-funded Resource Centers that provide information primarily geared toward professionals, and when possible, for consumers. The NRC’s mission is to disseminate information on how to build the capacity of the Aging Network’s nutrition services and increase the Network’s integration into a home- and community-based service system.


Nutritional Promotional Materials

Article: Caring for YOUR Nutrition

Blog: Feeding Your Loved One

Congregate Meal Programs: A Value Proposition Infographic

Share this infographic to help you communicate the business case for congregate meal programs to other organizations, providers, and health care entities.

Local Meal Program Promotional Poster

Customize this 8.5" x 14" poster with your phone number, email address, or URL. Print and hang it in the window of your center, on local grocery store bulletin boards, and other places in your community.


Last modified on 11/29/2021

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