We’ve compiled this list of cheap meal recipes based on pantry staples, along with a list of recipe ideas that offer plenty of different options so that you can combat senior food insecurity with fewer worries. 

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between 10 and 20% of older adults have difficulty affording food because of retirement and other life changes. Seniors may have to reduce their expenses because they no longer have an income from work, or they may need to adjust their spending to account for a medical condition. These adjustments can reduce the variety or quantity of food intake, which can result in food insecurity.

Nutritionists recommend that people over 60 eat at least three meals daily and have at least one snack every day. Eating regularly throughout the day helps your body digest food more efficiently and optimally while also giving you the energy you need to get through your day without falling short on any nutrients. 


What Is Food Insecurity? 

Food insecurity is a term that describes situations where people have limited or uncertain access to enough food for a healthy, active life. It’s been linked to poor health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to lower educational performance in children and higher rates of child and adult poverty.

In the U.S., about 25 million people are currently food insecure—which means they don’t know where their next meal will come from. Food insecurity is more common among low-income families, people of color, and the elderly. But it can happen to anyone—regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. 

Food insecure people may face challenges like work limitations, transportation issues (e.g., being unable to walk or bike to the grocery store), or other barriers that make it difficult for them to access healthy food. Many factors that cause food insecurity are outside of the person’s control and can be challenging to address. 

For example, people who cannot drive or take public transportation are at risk of experiencing hunger because they may not have access to a regular source of transportation to the grocery store. Thankfully, many senior meal delivery options are available for those with income limitations and transportation struggles. 


Cheap Meal Recipes for BreakfastCheap Meal Recipes for Breakfast

Eating a healthy breakfast is an excellent way to start your day. It can help with weight management, decrease the risk of disease, improve mood, and reduce stress. If you’re going through a time of senior food insecurity and can’t afford to buy the ingredients for a nutritious breakfast, you can still eat healthily. 

You can use dry goods that you have in your pantry to make a simple meal, such as a bowl of oatmeal or grits. You can also make a sandwich, such as peanut butter and jelly, and eat a piece of fruit as a side. Cereals are also a great option for a quick breakfast. You can bulk them up by adding milk or yogurt to them, or you can eat them as they are.


Lunch Ideas

For your midday meal, you can choose from various cheap recipes. You can make a sandwich, such as a peanut butter and jelly, BLT, or peanut butter and banana. Another option is to make a salad with canned beans or chickpeas as the main protein. You can top the salad with canned tuna or salmon if you do not want legumes. 

You can make a soup with pasta or beans as the main ingredient and even add meat or canned fish to the soup to make it more nutritious. Mixing canned beans, some type of canned proteins, and some spices can give you a dish with a bit of Latino flare to eat for lunch. Plus, you can add vegetables to make your soup more nutritious and delicious.


Dinner Ideas

You can choose from various cheap recipes like spaghetti, tacos, or chili for dinner. You can also make a simple sandwich like a chicken, turkey, or tuna sandwich. 

Add a simple salad, such as a Chinese salad with canned chicken and vegetables, to accompany your dinner. You can make a pasta meal with vegetables and pasta added to the main ingredients. Top it off with some spices for extra flavor, and enjoy!


Snack IdeasTrail Mix is a Wonderful Healthy, Yet Tasty Snack Idea

One of the best ways to combat senior food insecurity is to snack throughout the day. It leaves you feeling fuller for longer and helps your main meals last longer, giving you more meal options. 

Some options you can make include: 

  • Trail mix with nuts, seeds, raisins, and dried fruit as the main ingredients
  • Fruit salad with canned fruit as the main ingredient
  • Granola (loose or as a bar) with oats, nuts, dried fruit, and honey 
  • Hard-boiled eggs are very nutritious and filling
  • Yogurt with a variety of berries mixed in
  • Unbuttered popcorn is very nutritious
  • Peppers on their own, or dipped in hummus or guacamole


Healthy Staples for Seniors with Food Insecurity

When combatting food insecurity is the goal, there are some grocery staples that should be in every home. Here are some of the most nutritious staples to have on hand regularly: 

  • Beans (dried and canned)
  • Eggs
  • Peanut butter
  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh and canned)
  • Canned chicken or turkey
  • Yogurt
  • Canned tuna or salmon
  • Jelly or jam
  • Nuts
  • Potatoes (especially sweet potatoes)
  • Cereal
  • Breakfast bars
  • Granola bars
  • Oatmeal
  • Honey
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Pasta – ideally whole wheat
  • Sugar
  • Flour


Quick Meal Recipes Seniors Can Make with StaplesQuick Meal Recipes Seniors Can Make with Staples

Once the pantry is stocked, meal-making becomes a little bit easier. Here are some quick meal ideas you can put together simply based on the staples you likely already have. 

  • Eggs and Oats: Take the time to make breakfast when you can by making a simple bowl of oatmeal and an egg or two. The combination of fiber and protein is an excellent start to the day. Adding a little fruit increases the nutritional value and how long you will feel full. 
  • Midday Salad: Something as simple as combining some vegetables and a little protein can go a long way towards helping you feel fuller while filling your body with nutrition. Pick out your favorite veggies and add in some chicken or turkey. You can add a little store-bought dressing if you want, or just top it with a mix of honey, olive oil, and a touch of garlic. 
  • Dinner Pasta: Dinner can be an easy meal each day by simply making some pasta. Pick your favorite pasta and cook it. While it cooks, mix a protein like tuna with some vegetables or beans. Once the pasta is done, mix it into the protein and vegetable mix. You can add pasta sauce or eat it as-is. 
  • Yogurt Parfaits: One easy snack or dessert option is a yogurt parfait. Take a cup or a mason jar and put a little yogurt in the bottom. Add some fruit and some granola, then repeat the layers. Make as many layers as you want and enjoy. It is healthy, easy to make, and will keep you feeling full for a long time. 


Resources for Seniors Facing Food Insecurity

If you’re going through a time of senior food insecurity, you can still eat healthy meals with the help of nearby resources. Food pantries are nonprofit organizations that distribute free food to those in need. There are several Contra Costa County senior nutrition program options out there. It is just a matter of picking one that matches what the senior needs best.

You can find a food pantry near you and discuss your needs to see what food types are available. Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers nutritious hot meals to seniors who can’t cook for themselves. If you qualify for this program, you can receive healthy meals at home daily.

SNAP is another option that can provide some low-income meals. The program stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and aims to help anyone, including seniors, who struggle to put food on the table from a lack of income. These are the current iteration of food stamps. Each month, money is placed on a card you can spend on groceries at nearly all major grocery store chains. Not all will qualify for the program, but seniors with limited income options often do. 


Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa is Here to Help

If you’re a senior living in Contra Costa County, California, and are struggling to afford food, know that you’re not alone. Many others in your position are also struggling. That’s why Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa is here to help. 

We are a meal delivery service for seniors and offer a range of nutritious meals to Contra Costa County seniors. Once you sign up and qualify for the program, you get meals dropped off at home. 

If you are lucky enough not to face food insecurity, we also accept time and monetary donations. The more people we have to help with the program, the more people in Contra Costa County we can help! To find out more information or to learn how to get Meals on Wheels started, contact Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa today!