New member SEWA-AIFW serves familiar flavors to South Asian neighbors

Guests dish up food at a SEWA event

SEWA-AIFW, Metro Meals on Wheels’ newest member, runs a Meals on Wheels program that serves more than 200 older adults in the Twin Cities metro area. Their program focuses on meeting the nutritional needs of seniors in the South Asian diaspora, which includes India, Pakistan and the smaller surrounding countries south of China.

Founded in 2004, SEWA-AIFW is a nonprofit organization committed to serving, supporting, and enhancing family wellness for the South Asian community. In addition to their Meals on Wheels program, they focus on providing health care access, wellness resources, access to family violence resources and supports, and elder socialization activities.

SEWA (pronounced say-wah)means “to serve” in Hindi, with AIFW standing for Asian-Indian Family Wellness. In addition to the services provided, help is available in the languages of Hindi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil and Bengali – commonly spoken languages in South Asia.

Becoming a member of Metro Meals on Wheels has helped SEWA-AIFW expand and strengthen their home-delivered meal program, says Dr. Atul Mishra, SEWA’s medical director. “We are happy to have partners like Metro Meals on Wheels. It makes it a lot easier to do what we do.”

After 30 years working as a family practice doctor in southwest Minnesota, Dr. Mishra now volunteers his time at SEWA-AIFW overseeing their medical programs and menu development for their Meals on Wheels program. “I see people for free,” he says. “I give advice for free. I do whatever is needed for them.”

We sat down with Dr. Mishra for a Q&A to learn a little more about their program and the specific nutritional and cultural needs of the South Indian community.

Dr Mishra smiling while using a computer at an event

What particular nutritional issues are you looking at when you plan menus?

South Asians are more prone to diabetes and cardiac issues. Their food is rich in carbohydrates which compounds those problems. The food is also rich in carbohydrates because the majority of the population is vegetarian.

We love the food that we eat in our childhood. They want to eat the same food that they ate in their childhood, but they don’t always have the transportation to get it. The stores are too far away and they end up buying mainly bananas and fruits (at nearby stores without a broader selection of fresh foods).

How does SEWA-AIFW work to alleviate those problems?

We plan menus with the idea that 50 percent should be fruits and vegetables – more vegetables than fruit – 25 percent should be whole grains and 25 percent is protein, such as beans, yogurt and cheese.

I tell them to color the plate with food – get some green, get some red, get some orange. Why do I say that? Why do fruits and vegetables have colors? They have different nutrients. We deliver twice a week – two meals per person. The meals are good size. They will make six or seven meals out of it.

Because we deliver it, it solves their mobility issue. And if they cook some food at their house, they are reminded what foods to cook. So many health issues can be treated by food only if you know what food to cook.

Are there other barriers to reaching older adults in the South Asian community?

The other issue is the language barrier. They’ve been important people in their countries of origin, and when they come here they get lost. Many of the people in the communities we serve have been brought to the United States by their sons, daughters, or younger family members. They don’t want to ask for food, because they feel like a beggar. We talk and we communicate with their friends in a group setting. Slowly but surely they come, and they tell their friends to come.

What are the meals like?

Traditional South Asian meals – a lot of curries because they have many ingredients found to fight disease and inflammation. The ingredients we focus on include turmeric, cumin, coriander, garlic, onion, ginger, yogurt, cloves and black pepper. (SEWA-AIFW works with the Hyderabad Indian Grill to produce the meals that are delivered.)

What other nutritional advice do you have?

Eat as if you’re eating in a restaurant. They will bring the beverage, then they will bring the salad, and then they will bring the main entree. Eating in that order helps with getting the nutrition you need and portion control for the entree. Eat slow.

You can learn more about SEWA-IAFW at