Helping someone eat: Overview
A person who is getting care at home may need help with eating. When helping them eat, be patient and give the person plenty of time. Let the person do as much on their own as possible. This can help them feel more independent when having meals.
You can help by encouraging the person to eat whenever they are hungry. If the person has had a stroke or has swallowing problems, dental problems, or problems with thinking or memory, you may have to provide extra help with eating and getting enough nutrition. If the person has trouble swallowing, then your doctor, a dietitian, or a speech therapist can give you specific instructions to help with eating.
Meals can be a great way to spend time together. Eat with each other if you can. You may want to play soft music or have your phone or the TV turned off. Try to create a pleasant mood during the meal.
What can you do to encourage a good appetite?
The person you're caring for may have a low appetite or need some encouragement to eat regularly. Try to offer food more often, including snacks throughout the day. Ask what foods the person you're caring for likes best. Offer those foods when you can.
How can you help prepare for a meal?
Before the meal, there may be some things you can do ahead of time that will make it easier for the person to eat. For example, if the person has trouble with grip, provide large-handled forks, spoons, knives, and cups that are easy to hold. Use mats and plates that won't slip. And if preparing to eat takes a long time, be sure to keep the food at a preferred temperature.
You may need to prepare food that's easier to chew and swallow. Here are a few things to try:
- Cut or shred the food into small pieces before serving.
- Use canned or cooked fruits and vegetables that are soft.
- Blend or puree the food to make it easier to eat.
- Prepare "finger foods" that can be easily picked up and chewed.
How can you help during a meal?
When you help someone eat, it helps to let them know how you plan to help throughout the meal. If the person has trouble hearing or understanding, use gestures to help you communicate. Make sure that you position yourself so that you're in front of the person and able to make eye contact. Don't stand over the person. It could make them feel uncomfortable.
Here are some other things to remember:
- Be sure the person is sitting up. If the person is eating in bed, prop them up to a raised position. For example, raise the person up to a 30-degree angle, which is about the height of two firm pillows.
- Be aware of the temperature of the food. Some people may not be able to sense temperature very well, so make sure the food is not too hot.
- Use a napkin on the person's lap or under the chin.
- Pay attention to the pace of the meal. Give the person time to chew and swallow each bite before offering the next bite.
- Try to honor the person's eating style. Ask if they prefer to eat the same food until it's gone or alternate bites with another food.
Where can you learn more?
Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd
Enter S221 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Helping Someone Eat".
Current as of: March 27, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine