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How to support someone you care for with eating

If you care for someone, find out about meals, feeding, healthy eating, eating and drinking aids, swallowing difficulties and "meals on wheels".

If you're a carer, try to make sure the person you care for eats and drinks well. Eating a limited diet or not getting enough food can lead to malnutrition.

Malnutrition can be caused by:

  • some diseases, such as cancer
  • some medicines, if they interfere with your body's ability to take in nutrients
  • problems with false teeth (dentures) making eating difficult
  • problems with swallowing and chewing
  • lack of appetite
  • loss of smell or taste
  • depression

If the person you care for is not getting enough nutrients, their medical treatment may not work as well.

Try to encourage good nutrition and hydration, and make mealtimes enjoyable for the person you care for.

High-protein foods

Base their meals and snacks on foods that are high in energy and protein. These include:

  • meat
  • oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel)
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • full-fat dairy, such as yoghurt or cheese

Try to get them to have small meals and snacks every 2 to 3 hours. Warm milky drinks can also help to bump up nutrients and calories.

Drinking enough fluids

It's important that the person you care for drinks water and other fluids throughout the day. But if their appetite is poor, avoid too many drinks just before meals.

Read more about water and drinks

Plan your meals

Try to include their favourite foods in a weekly meal plan.

Make mealtimes a fun and social occasion by sitting down at the table and eating together.

Get more tips on how to eat well

Specific nutritional needs

Be aware of any difficulties the person you care for may have that affects what they can eat. For example, they may have food allergies or diabetes. Speak to a GP if you're not sure what their nutritional needs are.

Eating and drinking aids

If the person you care for struggles with cups or cutlery, there is specialist equipment that can help, such as no-spill cups or easy-to-handle knives and forks. Mention this difficulty at the community care assessment to see if any help is available from social services.

Read more about different types of eating and drinking aids on the Living Made Easy website

Help for swallowing difficulties

If the person you care for has difficulty swallowing food, contact a GP.

You might be referred to a speech and language therapist or dietitian for help, which may include nutritional supplements or alternative feeding methods, such as a nasogastric tube (a tube that goes down the nose into the stomach) or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) – where a feeding tube is surgically implanted into the stomach.

Read more about malnutrition treatment

'Meals on wheels'

If you cannot shop for, prepare or cook a meal, then the council may be able to help you by delivering ready meals to you at home. These are commonly known as "meals on wheels", but councils often refer to "meals at home" services.

You can also pay a private company to supply your meals.

Usually, a meals on wheels service will provide a hot meal with pudding. Some councils provide frozen meals that can be heated in a microwave or oven, giving you more control over when you eat.

There is usually a charge for meals on wheels, and the service is typically only offered after the council has assessed whether you need it.

The council will give you a "service agreement" with details of when you will receive meals and how much they will cost, and contact details for the person managing the meals on wheels service.

Such services generally cater for all types of meal, including:

  • vegetarian
  • soft and puréed meals
  • meals for people with diabetes
  • low-fat meals
  • gluten-free meals
  • kosher or halal meals
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