Private Duty

5 tips to improve mealtime, nutrition for your agency’s clients

Cooking and nutrition training not only enables caregivers to provide clients with better tasting food, but also with meals that are better for them.

“Caregivers need to understand how to take care of these more chronic and fragile older clients,” says Chef Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP and CEO of Caregivers Kitchen. “Most don’t understand the link between the food and disease management.”

For instance, COPD is a common chronic condition in elderly clients and can be costly to manage from a health care system perspective. If a caregiver understands nutrition, they can make sure the client receives enough protein for healing, Scholer says.

Clients who have the proper nourishment recover faster and have a greater chance of not developing wounds or infections, says Dea Kent, director of quality assurance for Indianapolis-based Community Health Network.

If clients aren’t eating or drinking, there’s no protein entering their bodies.

“If I’m fragile nutritionally and fragile because of chronic condition, my chance of infection goes up,” Kent says. “Germs look for opportunities. And I become a huge opportunity when I’m chronically ill.”

Take steps to improve meals, nutrition

  • Personalize the process. Actively listen to patients. Ask questions about the kinds of foods they enjoy and don’t enjoy eating, and talk with them and about how to consume more calories, says Anthony Wind, a registered dietitian and director of content with Savor Health in New York City.
  • Understand differences in expectations and cultures. Some clients may expect dinner to be a plated meal at the table, while others may expect to eat in front of the television, Scholer says.

    Be aware of differences in generation or culture. It’s important for caregivers to understand and incorporate those customs into their care.

    Agencies can use a questionnaire from Caregivers Kitchen to help caregivers capture client preferences about meals. Get the worksheet at

  • Tailor meals to diagnosis. There are simple, practical ways to improve the meal experience for clients based on certain diagnoses.

    Serve small portions to clients with Alzheimer’s or dementia, Scholer recommends.

    When a caregiver places a large amount of different foods in front of a client with dementia, the client may become overwhelmed and not eat at all. By serving small portions of one thing at a time, you eliminate those confusing choices.Using brightly colored dishes also can help with dementia clients, because it makes food easier to distinguish.

    Serving white mashed potatoes on a white plate can be confusing for these clients.

    For patients with COPD, something as simple as having the client eat at the table rather than in bed may make breathing easier and provide a better meal experience, Scholer says.

  • Educate the patient’s loved one about proper nutrition. It’s important to get buy-in from anyone who cooks for the patient, Wind says.
  • Consider whether patients need a liquid nutritional supplement. Ensure is one example of a drink patients might consume that would help, Kent says.Patients also could get protein supplements, Kent says. Food you could sprinkle protein powder in: Mashed potatoes, pancakes and milkshakes.