As a caregiver, cooking and prepping meals for your loved one is often the best way to help them. Depending on their condition, your loved one may not remember to eat, have little to no appetite, or struggle with food sensitivities. In more severe cases, your loved one may have a hard time swallowing which can make mealtime dangerous. These issues can make feeding them a struggle. Today we’re going to explore some nutrition tips to consider when preparing to feed your loved one and other ideas for ease and safety at mealtime.
Nutrition Tips for Your Aging or Ailing Loved One
Well balanced and nutritious meals are always best. If your loved one is struggling to eat a lot (as far as volume goes), it’s good to get in the habit of preparing balanced and diverse meals ahead of time. Bearing in mind any specific dietary requirements, think of the plate as a pie chart (see image).
According to the USDA (myplate.gov), the healthiest diet is a balanced one. Protein should make up roughly 25% of the plate, whole grains should make up another 25%, and fruits and vegetables should complete the remaining 50%.
With this distribution in mind, tips to keep nutrition high include:
Eat whole fruits over processed or juiced fruit.
Vary your vegetables. While a wide variety of vegetables is best, leafy greens should be included every day (leafy greens include spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, etc.).
Whole grains should include a mix of traditional grains like oats, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, barley, and quinoa. Starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams/sweet potatoes, yucca, etc. can also be used as a serving of whole grains.
Protein should be focused on lean meats or plant proteins. A serving can be any of the following: 1 ounce of meat, poultry, tofu, or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds can be considered as 1 ounce-equivalent of meat.
Dairy, if your loved one can consume and digest it, should be around 2-3 servings per day. A serving can be 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk or yogurt, or 1 ½ ounce of natural cheese.
Tips for Feeding: Safe and Productive Mealtime
To ensure mealtimes are safe and productive, here are a few recommendations and tips.
Avoid processed foods. Things like lunch meats, processed meats (like salami or hotdogs), packaged goodies (like bars, cookies, etc.), should be kept to a minimum. They often hold more sodium or sugar than optimal for your loved one.
Check the sodium content. Canned and frozen fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc. can be cheaper and easier alternatives to their fresh counterparts without sacrificing nutrition. When buying canned goods, look for the low sodium option (if available). Strain and rinse any canned goods before use to remove excess sodium. A diet too high in sodium can increase blood pressure and cause further health issues.
Smaller meals more frequently may be better. Digesting large heavy meals a few times a day may be difficult for your loved one. If that’s the case, try offering smaller portions more frequently throughout the day.
Check the smell and spices. Some treatments and ailments (like cancer treatment) can change taste and smell preferences. Pay attention to aromas and preferences - check in with your loved one to see what sounds good to them to eat. Use fans in and around the kitchen and dining areas to ventilate any strong odors. In the event that smell becomes too much, offer cold meal options like sandwiches, pasta salad, or something similar.
Keep hydration in mind. Staying hydrated is crucial. Keep a clear reusable water bottle with a lid/straw near your loved one at all times. By having it in a clear glass, bottle, or mug, you’ll be able to easily monitor how much they’re drinking.
Talk to your doctor about supplementation. If you fear your loved one is unable to consume enough nutrition to meet their vitamin/mineral recommended intake, talk to your doctor about getting a blood test done for supplementation recommendations. It is possible to cause harm through an overdose of vitamins, which is why we recommend discussing it with a doctor first.
Keep a log. Keep a journal or notebook near the eating and food preparation space(s) so you can notate exactly what was eaten and when. This information will be helpful for both you and their doctor.
Helping your loved one keep up on their hydration and nutrition is a crucial part of caregiving. We hope you found these tips helpful for ensuring your loved one is getting everything they need. Getting your loved one to eat or drink water in some cases may be a very difficult task. If you find it a daily struggle, joining a local Orange County support group or discussing the challenges with a doctor will be beneficial for you.
No matter how difficult or isolating the caregiving journey may get, you’re never alone in it. For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.