Cooking a meal at home, ordering food online or dining at a restaurant is not a problem for most people, but it might be a huge challenge for the elderly, especially those who live alone or have disabilities.
That is why seniors in Chongqing are pleased with the emergence of "community" or "senior" canteens, which have solved their dining headaches and support their wellbeing. In February last year, the State Council, China's Cabinet, released a plan for the development of the country's elder care services system during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), as part of its efforts to implement a national strategy to address an aging population.
In early July, Chongqing municipal government launched a catering program to meet the demands of seniors.
According to the municipal civil affairs bureau, which launched the program, the goal is for every district or county in the city to have a senior canteen by August. A total of 500 senior canteens will be built or improved around the city by the end of this year.
Currently, 41 districts and counties have utilized local resources such as elderly care centers, institutions and social workers to create the senior canteens.
A door-to-door delivery service is available for elderly people with disabilities and seniors are also being taught how to order food from the canteens via smartphones.
"It (the canteen) really meets the needs of us elderly people. Dining here is cheaper, more nutritious and convenient than cooking myself," said 67-year-old Liu Xuequan, who started to frequent a community canteen near his home in Chongqing's Shapingba district after his wife passed away this year. His only son lives outside the city.
Liu said it costs only 12 yuan ($1.65) for a canteen meal, which includes two meat and two vegetable dishes.
Minzhucun community canteen in Jiulongpo district has gained recognition from a large number of residents as well as tourists for its quality service and cheap and delectable food.
"The food here is clean and delicious. I think the community canteen is an ideal dining choice for all ages," said Song Hongjia, a retiree.
Du Bin, director of the canteen, said: "We offer soft and easy-to-chew dishes for the senior group. In addition, the food is consistent in quality, tasty and cheap."
The 500-square-meter canteen is open from 9:30 am to 8:30 pm and can accommodate more than 100 people, according to Chongqing Jiulongpo Urban Renewal Construction Co, which operates the service.
With the local government subsidizing the meals, the canteen provides set meals for 10 yuan ($1.27) and a buffet of more than 20 dishes for 18 yuan. Elderly people aged 60 and above living in poverty only have to pay 2 yuan for a set meal, and a free meal is given to poor people aged 80 and above who have lost their only child or have disabilities.
To cater for more residents and tourists, there are five 24-hour service windows offering noodles, dumplings, braised pork, porridge, hamburgers and desserts.
Since it opened in April this year, the canteen has provided some 24,000 meals.
Jiulongpo district has also built integrated livelihood complexes for the community. From January to June, the district offered elderly care services on 334,000 occasions that include meals, bathing, medical care, housekeeping and door-to-door care, the Jiulongpo civil affairs bureau said.
According to data from the latest national census, there are 280 million people aged 60 and above in China, or about 19.8 percent of the population. There are 7 million people 60 and over living in Chongqing, roughly 21.8 percent of the city's population.