Enjoying a healthy relationship with food
In her first blog for us, Beth Britton writes about achieving a balanced diet and gives tips and advice to support happier mealtimes.
Most people know that healthy eating is important, but achieving it can be really difficult. For some of us, our relationship with food is linked to our mental health , while others are restricted by health conditions like coeliac disease or diabetes that make food choices more complicated.
It may be that you or someone you care for is living with dementia, which can affect everything from how a person recognises food to what they will eat. Or maybe you are recovering from cancer treatment and struggling with your appetite or battling long-COVID and a lack of taste.
When it comes to our relationship with food, what most of us have in common is needing to try and find a balance between what we like and what’s good for us, as well as being creative on days when we are feeling uninspired by what’s in our fridge.
Aiming to eat well
I know the difficulties around eating and dementia particularly well as my dad lived with dementia for 19 years. In my work I’ve encountered many challenges around eating for older and disabled people, and one of the most useful tools I’ve seen to visually support healthy eating is the Eatwell Guide.
The NHS say of this guide: “The Eatwell Guide shows how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. You do not need to achieve this balance with every meal, but try to get the balance right over a day or even a week.”
Once you know what types of food should be eaten in greater or lesser quantities, the next question is: How do you achieve this for an older or disabled person who is struggling with food and mealtimes?
General tips to support eating well
- Don’t remain wedded to 3 meals a day. For some people, a grazing approach of little and often throughout the day is more helpful. Having healthy snacks available like fruit (fresh or dried), vegetable sticks, nuts (if these are safe for a person to eat), wholegrain crackers or yogurt (alongside fresh water or another drink of choice) can help a person to increase their intake of healthy food groups.
- Taste buds can struggle as a person gets older. Stronger flavours can help. My dad never ate curry until he tried it during his latter years with dementia and liked it.
- Support the person to prepare food. This is something many BelleVie Wellbeing Support Workers do with their clients. Preparing food together can stimulate conversation, and it enables the person to have
occupation, independence and a sense of achievement.
- Don’t ignore the sensory elements of food. The smell of different foods or the texture of different ingredients can help to stimulate both conversation and taste buds.
- Use picture cards to support food choices. If a person isn’t sure what they want to eat or they are struggling to communicate their choice(s) to you, show pictures of different foods/meals, look at recipe books together and/or show the person the actual foods/ingredients.
Supporting a person with dementia
- A person with dementia may naturally gravitate to sweeter foods. Try to support healthier choices like fruit as much as possible.
- Know a person’s food life story. Meals the person may have enjoyed on holidays as a child, at their wedding breakfast, or that they used to enjoy cooking may be popular because they reflect a time in the person’s life that they are now living in.
- Supporting a person with dementia and dysphagia. Following a diagnosis of dysphagia, it’s important to follow the guidance given by the person’s Speech and Language Therapist (SALT). To support my dad with his dysphagia during the last four years of his life we bought him fruit smoothies to drink, and would often mash soft fruits or cook and puree harder fruits/vegetables to help him eat them.
Above all make the shopping for, preparation and eating of food sociable, help a person to have independence, choice and control over their food and mealtimes, and don’t be afraid to try something new if old favourites just aren’t tempting a person to eat like they used to.
About the author:
Beth Britton is an award-winning content creator, consultant, trainer, mentor, campaigner and speaker who is an expert in ageing, health and social care https://www.bethbritton.com.