Transforming meals on wheels: lessons from Milan

Freshly prepared meals on wheels ready for delivery at the Eunpyeong Senior Welfare Center by Simon Shaw

Published: 16 Apr 2020

A visit to Milan’s meals on wheels has left Simon Shaw with some ideas for how we can enhance our own meal delivery service here in London.

Meals on wheels is a meal delivery service, for those who have difficulties cooking at home. With social distancing and enforced isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak, the importance of the service has never been clearer. 

Outside of this crisis all sorts of people consistently rely on the meals and wheels service for up to three meals a day. The usually healthy, nutritious meals are especially important for aiding people who can live independently and those who struggle to shop for and cook their own food.  

An essential service for many, meals on wheels has been subject to significant cuts here in London. In 2014, two thirds of councils were supporting a meals on wheels service, this drastically declined to less than half in 2018. The result – meal access has been restricted to those who either have a high level or crisis need and, in many areas, the quality and reach of the services has also declined. Lack of local authority funding, amongst other factors, has led to a vicious cycle of lack of demand and higher per head costs, making services much harder to sustain.  


"A good service is like a badge of honour." - meals on wheels comissioner for France.


Fortunately, there are a few dedicated organisations bucking the trends and continuing to provide support for older people. Us Londoners are lucky to have the London Independent Living Service offering hot meals in Camden and Haringey and AgeUK in Camden and Croydon and plenty more besides.  

So how can we ensure these organisations and other like them are supported? Thanks to the Churchill Fellowship, I was able to gain some inspiring insights into how other cities around the world are innovating around meals on wheels. 

Milan's meals on wheels

One of Milan’s successful methods is using a combination of local government, social enterprise, and third sector organisations to deliver services. Social enterprise, Milano Ristorazione, prepare the meals in large-scale kitchens around the city. Once the dishes are ready, a consortium of community organisations head out for delivery. 

I was lucky enough to tag along on a delivery round with Sociosfera Onlus, one of the city’s delivery organisations. On my visit I learned, in addition to delivering meals to approximately 800 people each working day, Sociosfera Onlus also check in on the wellbeing of the people they are delivering to; a vital part of keeping people healthy.  

Milan has also managed to weave sustainability into their meals on wheels service. An organisation called Milano Ristorazione, which produces meals and wheels, school meals and other meals at scale, use their buying power to support local and organic producers. They can make this cost effective by efficiently producing large number of meals, and they don’t compromise on quality either. 

This innovative Italian city, demonstrates the potential for cities like London, to develop more sustainable meal services. The GLA, London boroughs, community organisations, and social enterprises can all play a role in helping to reach this goal by adopting a city-wide response to maintaining and enhancing meals on wheels provisions. 

If ever there were a time more meals on wheels were needed it is now. 

Read Simon’s full report of his trip to France, Italy and South Korea and listen back on a recent webinar