8 Food Assistance Options for Seniors on Medicare

Joshua Iversen

Many seniors on Medicare experience some degree of food insecurity, finding it difficult at times to afford as much food as they need. This type of food deficit calls for more than just an emergency plan

With both health care and food costs rising, older adults who rely on Social Security or other pension plans for income may find themselves short of the funds they need for food. 

Seniors who find themselves in this position may want to look into food assistance options offered by the government and other private entities.

What are 8 Food Assistance Options for Seniors?

Food assistance programs or senior benefits are often overlooked. These free food programs have different qualifying criteria. 

Some are available to all seniors on Medicare or Medicaid, or to low-income seniors or those with disabilities. Caregivers with a loved one who is at risk of food insecurity may want to look into these programs on behalf of their charges.

These programs include:

1. The Medicare Food Allowance benefit

This program can be used in addition to other available programs. It is typically associated with Medicare Advantage (Medicare Part C) plans. The grocery benefit grants beneficiaries a quarterly allowance for qualifying food items. 

Eligibility is based on enrollment. In addition, you need to live in the service area for one of these health plans to qualify.

Many Medicare Advantage plans offer the new healthy food card benefit. Among the items, you can buy with this card at grocery stores and other participating venues are:

  • Fresh, canned, and frozen fruit

    • Fresh, canned, and frozen vegetables

    • Salad kits

    • Dairy Products

    • Beans

    • Healthy Grains

    • Meats

    • Baking needs like flour, seasonings, sugar

    • Nutrition shakes and snack bars

    • Water and vitamin water

Contact the Medicare plan you are enrolled in to see which specific items are covered. 

The food card does not cover all items.

Some of the items not covered include:

  • Pet food

    • Baby formula

    • Non-food items

    • Chips

    • Fresh baked goods

    • Desserts

    • Candy

    • Soda

    • Alcohol

    • Tobacco

    • Coffee 

    • Soda

Many Medicare Advantage plans feature nutrition benefits such as a healthy food card for nutritious meals or home meal delivery for homebound seniors. 

Eating healthy can help seniors avoid diseases such as diabetes. Some plans require that you have a qualifying health condition or specific medical care needed to access these benefits, and may require copays. 

Plan members provided with a healthy food card have their benefits loaded onto the card. They can then use the card to make purchases when they checkout. 

To use the care, those eligible must shop at a participating store and buy eligible foods. The card covers the cost of approved foods up to the specified limit.

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) does not cover meal delivery services or grocery benefit cards. These benefits are only available to those with Medicare Advantage plans that offer them.


2. Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)

This program offers eligible seniors free vouchers that they can use at participating farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.

The SFMNP is federally funded and provides grants to states and territories. 

3. Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)

This program makes available boxes of nutritious food to qualifying seniors who meet certain income criteria qualifications.

The packages provided by CSFP include foods and drinks such as juice, cereal, milk, rice, pasta, dry beans, peanut butter, poultry, fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. Note that this program is not available in every state.

4. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)

TEFAP is a federal program that makes nutritious food available to low-income individuals for free. 

The food is first purchased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and then sent to the states. Eligibility qualifications are different from state to state. 

5. Meals on Wheels

The Meals on Wheels Association of America features a program that offers free meals for seniors who are on Medicare by providing them with free grocery delivery. 

The meals provided by the program are selected to meet the dietary guidelines set by the USDA.

6. Area Administration on Aging

The Administration on Aging (AAA)resource can help point seniors in the direction of discounted meal sites, such as senior centers and other programs such as Meals on Wheels. 

You can use the Eldercare.gov locator link to see if there is a program near you.

7. Food Banks, Pantries, and Soup Kitchens

A number of these establishments serve needy seniors. Many of them are operated by churches and various community organizations.

8. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Once known as food stamps, the SNAP program offers benefits to low-income households, including seniors, via electronic cards that can be used to purchase food.