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How to get food to your parents in times of coronavirus

Meals for older people

With instructions to stay in to protect yourself and family from the COVID-19 virus, how can we make sure our parents are getting the food they need?

Here are some thoughts that apply today, but with the rate of change it will be a good idea to check latest status when you want to place orders or if your parents are thinking of venturing out to shops for essential supplies. I will be updating the article as frequently as possible.


If your parents can get out to shop for themselves, the supermarkets are offering specific times of day when older and more vulnerable people can visit in relative peace.

This is the latest information we have. Check websites in case the times have changed, and check local stores for their current opening and closing times.


Retailer Priority shopping times for elderly and vulnerable
Aldi None
Asda Trialled once – awaiting any further news
Coop Dedicated hour – check with local store for details
Iceland 8-9 am Mon-Sat, 1st hour or opening on Sun
Lidl None
Marks & Spencer 1st hour Mon/Thurs – check local store for opening times
Morrisons None instore
Sainsbury’s 8-9am Mon/Wed/Fri
Tesco 9-10 Mon/Wed/Fri (not Tesco Express)
Waitrose First hour of opening for all stores

If a friend or neighbour offers to shop for your parent, they willl probably have to shop in normal hours, but it looks like the supermarkets have on the whole calmed down and are re-stocking well.

Online deliveries

The supermarkets are recruiting as fast as they can to ramp up home deliveries. We’ve heard reports of deliveries that were confirmed being cancelled at the last moment, and no option to choose another slot for 3 weeks, so it’s worth bearing that in mind. However, this could be so that the retailers can prioritise customers in the greatest need.

This was sent out on 26 March from Sainsburys and may well apply to other supermarkets:

“Many of you have written to me to tell me you are elderly or vulnerable and are struggling to book online delivery slots. We are doing our absolute best to offer online delivery slots to elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers. These customers have priority over all slots. Our customer Careline has been inundated with requests from elderly and vulnerable customers – we have had one year’s worth of contacts in two weeks.

“We have proactively contacted 270,000 customers who had already given us information that meant we could identify them as being in these groups. Our customer Careline is working at full capacity to help other customers within these groups and we are able to give an additional 8,000 customers a day access to delivery slots over the phone. We have already booked in slots for 115,000 elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers this week and this number is growing every day.

“We will receive the government database this week which tells us which people in England the government considers to be most vulnerable. Where these people are already registered with us, we will start to write to them next week to offer them a delivery slot. We are also working hard to secure details for vulnerable people living in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

Prioritising older and vulnerable people for deliveries is a great idea, but becomes more complicated if you are placing an order on their behalf. It’s also pretty difficult to get through to helplines at the moment. There are no perfect answers yet.

Update 29 March: Waitrose is setting aside a quarter of its delivery slots for older and vulnerable customers.

If your parent already has milk delivered, they may well be able to procure other foodstuffs. I use milkandmore, and while fruit and veg have been out of stock for a while now, I can order bread and dairy products. However, that does require ordering online, and milkandmore is not accepting new customers.

Update: Morrisons now offers a next-day delivery essentials box for £35 (including £5) delivery. Slots fill fast but worth a look.

The good news is that many restaurants, coffee shops and pubs have adapted their services to deliver meals or sell fresh produce from their premises, as have butchers, bakers and greengrocers. Search locally to find them. Andwholesalers are also creating online shops to sell their stock.

Corner shops

Many local shops are said to be carrying good stocks of most vital goods. There are a few that are said to be profiteering, so if you parent suggests they’ve had to pay ridiculous prices for goods, you can report the shop to trading standards.

Call 020 3738 6000 or email [email protected]

Commercial meal delivery services

There are of course the companies that have been delivering meals to older people for many years, such as Wiltshire Farm Foods and Oakhouse Foods.

The good news is that many restaurants, coffee shops and pubs have adapted their services to deliver meals or sell fresh produce from their premises, as have butchers, bakers and greengrocers. Search locally to find them. And wholesalers are also creating online shops to sell their stock.

Voluntary meal delivery services

The Royal Voluntary Service provides meals on wheels services in normal times in many parts of the country and is still committed to delivering essential food and medication.

If your parent has been using local community centres for a hot meal, they may still be able to access delivery services. Visit their local authority website for more information.

Community groups

There are a great many people offering their individual services to help get supplies to people who can’t get out. Many of them can be found in local community Facebook groups. There are some safeguarding issues here. For example, if people ask for money for shopping up front, it might be best to turn down the offer. While many are genuine, there are also scammers at large.

Restaurants, pubs and takeaways

With restaurants now closed, some have converted to local home delivery, and takeaways remain open. It’s probably not an everyday solution, but could be handy if your parent needs a meal but can’t cook on a particular day.

Update 2 April: It looks like pubs are reopening as click and collect grocery outlets. This could at least ease the pressure on the supermarkets who are trying very hard to instigate social distancing rules.

Cooking food for the freezer

If you can visit your parent from time to time, then bringing frozen meals is a useful option. While the supermarkets may be short on ready meals, you could make meals yourself. Homemade soup is very easy to make if you have the ingredients. Finding fresh veg is a little difficult at the moment, but that’s likely to return to normal. You can buy freezer bags to hold liquids from ebay and similar. There are many websites with simple recipes. I find the allotment gardening site very reliable.

Government parcels

The first food parcels for the most at risk are now being delivered by the Government. The service is targetting those who have no supporting family or others to help them shop, and those who can expect parcels will receive a letter to that effect.

Image by Security from Pixabay

You can find more articles about supporting your parent during the Coronavirus pandemic here.

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