• May 10, 2017
  • by Jenneke van Hemert

Anger, frustration, or refusing foods are signs that your loved one may be overwhelmed.

There are several reasons your loved one may not enjoy mealtime anymore. The amount of food in front of them, background noises, distracting design patterns on the serving plate, or even the use of utensils may add to the confusion. Here are a few tips to help.

1. Remove distractions.

Turn of the TV and phones. Use a plain but colored plate; blue and red work well. The contrast between the plate color and the food makes is easier to see what is on the plate. Plate small portions as a full plate can be overwhelming. If you have no success, try plating one or two items at the time, so all the attention is on the food.

2. Offer finger foods.

When the ability to use utensils is lost, the urge to start helping with feeding is only natural. However, not every person likes to be fed. Your loved one may refuse feeding and mealtime can become very frustrating for both. If this behaviour is an issue, try offer finger foods. Finger foods are foods offered in bite size pieces. To keep the food interesting and flavourful, sauces can be offered on the side for dipping.

3. Offer small meals throughout the day.

When meals are consumed at a very slow pace, regular mealtimes will not be sufficient to meet nutrition needs anymore. Instead, offer smaller portions throughout the day. Finger foods are appropriate for this as well, as they can be enjoyed away from the dining table in a favorite comfortable chair.

4. Sweeten it up.

Dementia can affect the ability to recognize familiar food, and can alter the ability to smell and taste. Therefore, a once favorite can suddenly fall out of flavor. It is thought that sweet flavors are the most likely to be recognized by the brain at late stage dementia. As a dietitian, I am not keen on adding sugars to food, but this is one application in which it is useful. To flavor meats you can add a sweet dipping sauce such as plum sauce or cranberry jelly, or use condiments such as honey mustard or ketchup.


Jenneke van Hemert a registered dietitian who specializes in meal preparation for people with dementia, or swallowing or chewing difficulty, and chronic disease management. Meal delivery service is available.

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