Supporting food intake

Many health issues and medications can lead to reduced appetite, making mealtime a source of frustration for both caregivers and those they’re caring for. Lack of appetite may make it challenging to maintain adequate nutrition. These tips can help.

Food and eating

Many health issues and medications can lead to reduced appetite, making mealtime a source of frustration for both caregivers and those they’re caring for. Lack of appetite may make it challenging to maintain adequate nutrition. These tips can help:

  • Build a routine around meals. Make a schedule together and keep in mind medications that require food. Don’t feel pressure to have a typical schedule. For example, maybe an earlier breakfast followed by a hearty, late-morning snack works better. The routine should work for you and the person you care for, even if it’s less traditional. 
  • If they aren’t eating much overall, aim for high-calorie meals early in the day.
  • Invite friends, neighbors, or family members over for meals. Building social engagement into your routine can help to take the focus off the food. Mealtime becomes more fun! Include the person you care for in the invitation process as much as possible. Maybe have them extend the invitation, or have them help you mark the calendar so they know when to expect company. 

  • Shopping and meal planning is one of the easiest ways to build a partnership around healthy food. The person you care for will feel more invested if they had a hand in creating the list, going to the store, and prepping the food. Bring them in at the level you’re both comfortable with. Social meals will also help to avoid isolation and symptoms of depression, especially in older adults who have some independence. 
  • If the person you care for has trouble chewing, swallowing, or manipulating silverware, their frustration and safety can get in the way of consuming enough nutrition. Work with the care team to determine if nutritional support, like protein shakes, is needed. If you are caring for an adult, ask them if they would like their foods cut or prepared in a certain way - this helps them to maintain a sense of agency and dignity during mealtime. 
  • Offer foods they love, prepared in a healthy way, and manage portion sizes. Do they love spaghetti and meatballs? Buy sauces with less salt and no sugar, or make your own, so you can control these ingredients. Pre-portion appropriate amounts to avoid over-eating. If getting enough calories is a struggle, ask about their favorite foods, and work together to incorporate them into meals. 
  • Address depression and social isolation, as these may be the cause of reduced appetite or stress around food. Invite friends to join meals, and ask the person you care for if they would like to talk to their care team about their mental health. Therapy is now available via video, online chat, phone, and in person.

Sources:
National Stroke Association: Recovery After Stroke

National Institute on Aging - Overcoming Roadblocks to Healthy Eating

For Professionals: Talk to Your Patients & Clients About Healthy Eating Patterns

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