One of the most important and many responsibilities in caregiving is to make certain that you optimize your loved one’s enjoyment in food, and ultimately, impact their favorable nutrition.
Your loved one might be experiencing some changes with their appetite, and/or a health condition might be interfering with their desire to eat. The secret to success is to speak with your physician about this, then design a plan that works for the two of you. It is an easy thing to do, but you need to be willing to be creative and change things from the way they have always been.
Here are a few tips for you to try:
• Give meal or snack time your full attention and make it special. It is just a brief window out of the day, so make sure that you are fully present to experience it. You can make it special, and turn it into a picnic or set the table with music or any other thing that would make it enjoyable.
• Have a regular routine with consistent meals and snacks. Schedule this like clockwork. We must not rely on our loved one to feel hunger. We need to eat on a very regular basis.
• Serve smaller portions of high nutrient foods. Instead of a large plate, serve smaller portions. Some seniors are overwhelmed with large amounts of food. Perhaps schedule five to six small meals instead of three large meals that we are used to. You can cook food in larger batches. Just store it in smaller, individual containers so it is easy to reheat.
• Have plenty of nutritionally packed snacks on hand. Some seniors prefer to graze throughout the day, rather than eat full meals. Be sure to keep healthy, delicious and easy-to-eat snacks available. String cheese, diced fruit, peanut butter and crackers, yogurt, cottage cheese and chocolate milk are all great choices.
• Make note of what works and what doesn’t. Maybe certain times of the day, they have a better appetite. Sometimes, the foods that they used to enjoy they no longer enjoy. Make sure that you do not default to their long-term favorites or dislikes. Our preferences change with time. Keeping track allows you to offer their favorites more often and avoid foods that they no longer enjoy. Also, scour the popular media for inspirational snacks and meals. Mix it up.
• Adjust/assess, adjust/assess. Be patient and creative with menu and snack planning. The goal is to invite your loved one to keep their nutrition at an optimal level and enjoy the dining experience every step of the way.
• Above all else, keep experimenting, and don’t get discouraged. You will obtain the outcome that you are looking for and you and your loved one will be nutritionally sound while, at the same time, enjoying each other’s company.
Laura Nissen is the dementia specialist for Luther Manor Communities in Dubuque.