Helping people eat enough to stay healthy

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As we get older our sense of taste and smell can change which can affect our appetite and enjoyment of food.

People who lack good nutrition are at risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition is usually caused by not having enough to eat or not getting the essential nutrients you need to keep healthy. It's more common in older people and those with long term health conditions.

Malnutrition can cause:

  • muscle loss
  • weakness and fatigue
  • poor mobility
  • depression
  • delayed wound healing
  • increased risk of infection with a slower recovery

These could lead to a general deterioration in a person’s health and wellbeing.

Dementia and delirium can make these issues worse. The Alzheimer’s society produce useful guidance and, though targeted at dementia, is applicable to nutrition in older people.

Encouraging people to eat

It is important to offer residents that you care for a varied diet that takes into account personal preferences. Simple things can make a big difference, such as:

  • encouragement and help at meal times
  • meeting cultural and ethnic needs
  • using food aids
  • creating a pleasant environment at meal times
  • encouraging good oral hygiene
  • making meals that look good enough to eat



Support the personSupport the person<div class="ExternalClass826B4FE7D1834F36846B75F6ABC24408"><p>Encouraging an older person to eat enough nourishing food can be challenging. The <a href="" rel="external">Social care Institute for excellence</a> has useful advice and tips on encouraging eating and maintaining dignity:</p><ul class="list list-bullet"><li>make sure that glasses, hearing aids and dentures are properly in place before starting to eat</li><li>make sure that the person is in a supported, upright and comfortable position for eating and drinking</li><li>be flexible with meals and meal times</li></ul><p>Make sure that different food choices which respect religious, ethnic and personal preferences are offered at each meal time.</p><p>If the person needs assistance with feeding, explain what the food is before you start to feed them. See if they can still hold the spoon even if they need you to help them load it.</p><div class="text"><div class="text-highlight" role="note" aria-label="Information"><p>If you have concerns about continued and unintentional weight loss please contact the person’s GP for advice. </p></div></div></div>
Creating a suitable environmentCreating a suitable environment<div class="ExternalClass19F5A5960614465185F580C9FD305F36"><ul class="list list-bullet"><li>mealtimes should be enjoyable social times as eating is not just for the nutrients</li><li>being with someone at mealtime may help improve appetite</li><li>make sure any special eating and drinking equipment that is needed is used at each mealtime for example specialist cups, stay-warm plates, teaspoons</li><li>plain coloured crockery usually contrasts well with food</li><li>if using a tablecloth or placemat, choose a plain colour to avoid confusion, and choose a different colour to that of the crockery so that the edge of the plate is clear</li><li>removing table decorations may also help</li><li>eating in a calm setting that is distraction free is a pleasant experience</li></ul></div>
Serving foodServing food<div class="ExternalClass696EAF21B9BD47BB8BE0E81819248144"><p>It's often said we ‘eat with our eyes’ and the look of our food is the first thing that makes us want to eat. it is important that:</p><ul><li>food should look and smell appealing</li><li>small portions are offered if someone is finding a large plateful off putting</li><li>plenty of eating time is given and food reheated if necessary to maintain meal appeal</li><li>confusion is avoided by serving one course at a time</li><li>the table is not cleared before the meal is finished</li> </ul></div>


  1. The malnutrition task force website is a source of useful information. It has resources including nutrition and end of life care.
  2. Further resources and ideas to help with eating and drinking difficulties are available by attending the ‘Eating and Drinking with Care’ training for care home managers. The training is facilitated by Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust Dietitians and the Speech and Swallowing team. It is free to attend. For more information contact the Dietitians team on 0113 843 0890 or email
  3. The Caroline Walker Trust book ‘Eating well: supporting older people and older people with dementia provides useful advice
  4. The Leeds observatory has an overview of nutrition and dehydration across Leeds.