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Do you know someone struggling to eat?

old lady in hospitalFor the majority of us eating is part of the joys of life and aside from concerns about weight control and cholesterol levels little can come between us and the next meal.

However, for those people with chronic illness, the elderly, the debilitated and the sad, eating can be a real chore.

For those who have to stand by and watch a loved ones weight plummet, for what ever reason, it can be difficult to know what to do.

Here are a few things for you to consider:

  • First port of call should be the GP who may refer you on to a Dietitian for specialist help.
  • In some cases the help of a dentist may also be necessary particularly if the person has ill fitting dentures, sore gums or a dry mouth.
  • Keeping a food diary can be really useful when talking over the problem with health professionals.
  • One of the main reasons that people loose weight is a lack of energy (kilojoules/kilocalories) in their diet and so their bodies start breaking down healthy tissue for energy.
  • While it can be tempting to try to fill up underweight people with extra lollies, chocolate and high fat foods such as biscuits and cakes this can be counterproductive and in fact can reduce rather than stimulate their appetite.
  • Keep portions small but interesting and varied in texture, colour and flavour.
  • Many elderly people wake early; take a drink back to bed, then breakfast late. Encouraging them to have a muffin or pikelet when they first get up can really help to get food points on the board.
  • Small servings of porridge +/- fruit and yoghurt are popular breakfast foods along with egg custards or creamy rice.
  • Lunch might consist of scrambled egg, fish or club sandwiches or a milk pudding with fruit.
  • If chewing meat is difficult then soft meats such as mince, fish or chicken maybe more easily managed but keep servings small and offering a gravy or sauce can add to their appeal.
  • While eating fresh fruit and vegetables should be encouraged these foods can be bulky and low in calories. Rice, peas, kumara, corn, yams are higher in energy value than leafy greens. Bananas and canned fruits in syrup are usually well received.
  • Take care when offering fluids as these can be very filling especially soft drinks. Instead offer liquids that are nutrient dense such as fruit juice or chicken soup or fruit smoothies made with trim milk.
  • Snacks between meals should still be low in fat. Mini muffins or scones, pikelets or puddings such as yoghurt, jelly, rice custards or frozen yoghurts will provide valuable protein and energy for body repair without compromising heart health.
  • Always focus on the positive achievements of every day. Such as on how much has been eaten rather than what has been left behind.

If you would like some help with someone who is struggling to eat then do contact us for a nutritional assessment of their current diet and tips to improve any nutrient shortfalls

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »

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