How to take stress out of mealtime

Caring for someone who needs help at mealtime can be stressful. They may not want to eat, or maybe they’re complaining about the meal. The issues around mealtime can vary, so here are some tips to get mealtime back on track

Food and eating

Caring for someone who needs help at mealtime can be stressful. They may not want to eat, or maybe they’re complaining about the meal. The issues around mealtime can vary, so here are some tips to get mealtime back on track:

  • Start by having a conversation about what’s challenging or stressful. Do they have trouble seeing their food or managing the silverware? Or do they not look forward to eating what’s been prepared for them? Taking the time to understand what’s challenging will make them feel heard and help you identify potential solutions. 
  • If eating is overwhelming and a source of frustration, keep portions small and limit the number of different foods in a single meal. Aim for the biggest meal when they have the most energy, likely early in the day.
  • If they have trouble using utensils or bringing food to their mouth, avoid foods that are challenging to manage like cutting tough meats, corn on the cob, or sandwiches. An occupational therapist can help you figure out what may help them, like a plate guard on the edge of their plate or larger and lighter flatware.
  • Include them in making your weekly meal plan or grocery list so they keep a sense of independence and investment in healthy eating. 
  • If you use a meal delivery service, review the menu in advance and make an alternate plan for meals they won’t enjoy.
  • If affording healthy food is a challenge, consider a service like Meal on Wheels. Also, planning meals in advance can help to take advantage of bulk shopping and sales, and to reduce food waste.
  • If mealtimes are overwhelming, consider asking for support. Having a friend join for meals could make mealtime feel more like a social event rather than something that’s frustrating or stressful. 
  • If they need more support, let their care team know so you can get help. Tell them how much they're able to eat on their own and what the issues are. The care team may be able to offer occupational or nutritional support.

Sources:
HHS Healthy Eating

National Stroke Association: Recovery After Stroke

National Institute on Aging - Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

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