Have you considered it might not the food?

If someone’s face does look like the GIF above, it might be time for cooking lessons.

If not, read on, we might be able to help.

There are many reasons why an elderly person might not be eating and not all of it has to do with food. Some of the other things to consider aside from ability are listed below. In this piece we discuss how certain health conditions impact negatively on the ability to enjoy food, how equipment aids might be useful, present a couple of issues you might not have considered before and show how you might be able to help.

1. Fatigue

  • Eating: chewing and swallowing can be hard work, it might be that smaller portions or food that can be cut up smaller could help.

  • Discuss with the individual trialing a meal cut into smaller pieces.

  • Portion size: Are the portion sizes off putting?

  • Try little and often instead of 3 meals a day.

  • Liquid meals: is soup a possibility?

  • Check with the individual’s GP or dietician if protein drinks might be a more suitable alternative for a short while.

2. Body Clock Impacting on When to Eat

  • It might be lunch-time for you, does it feel like lunch-time for the individual or are they ready for their evening meal?

  • Attempt to re-adjust the body clock via sun downing and early rising or work with it and prepare food that can be eaten when the person is hungry not when you want to cook.

3. Depression and Mood

  • Is there a way they might be able to help prepare the meal? Cooking is a social pastime.

  • Could they join you in the kitchen? Is there somewhere suitable to sit?

  • Is there a way to lift the mood with brighter music?

  • We are not suggesting techno as background music to eating a sandwich or even death metal whilst you present your carefully constructed meal but is there some music that you could both sing along to whilst you are cooking that may lighten the day of you both.

  • Or use scent to entice an appetite?

  • Could fragrant herbs or spices be used in the cooking process? Are these pleasing to the individual?

  • Could something citrus help hide the smell of cooking veg that might be unappealing?

4. Cutlery

  • Lightness – are they too heavy to lift and use? Or too light to use effectively?

  • Sharpness – are they blunt? Does this mean the person has to use more effort?

  • Ergonomics – are they the right shape for the individual to use?

  • Check out the Complete Care Shop for eating aids.

5. Crockery

  • Lightness – is the plate too light and consequently moving when being leaned on?

  • Colour – are you putting white food onto a white plate? Or brown food onto a blue plate? What does it look like?

  • Shape – a plate shaped like a fish may look nice but is it distracting? Is the soup bowl too deep causing spills?

  • Fit for purpose – Does the cup have too thick a lip that hinders closing the mouth properly? Is the handle accessible? Would it be better with two handles?

  • There are lots of modern alternatives that support independence in eating and drinking.

6. Tablecloth

  • Does it gather under the plate?

  • This can make cutting up food awkward. There are many clips on the market to secure a tablecloth. They attach to the corners of a table over the tablecloth and offer more security in the place setting.

  • Is the colour or texture distracting? Is the food white on a white plate on a white tablecloth?

  • ​Opt for plain colours if a tablecloth is necessary. Discuss with the individual how it will be cleaned, is a vinyl tablecloth that can be wiped clean a better option?

7. Place Setting

  • Angles of cutlery and crockery to each other – are they too close?

  • Is it clearly visible for someone with cataracts or glaucoma?

  • Talk with the individual how best to serve the meal to ensure they enjoy it fully.

8. Amount on the Plate

  • Is it off-putting? Does it look too much?

  • Appetites decline naturally as we age, even if you have prepared a large meal, rather than plating up a large meal, plate up a smaller meal – that way there is always the chance of seconds!

9. Positioning of the Food on the Plate

  • Is it too close together? Especially if it is similar colours, might it therefore merge into one for someone with poor sight?

  • Does the individual like sauce to the side or all over? Does having sauce all over cause an anxiety issue in spills or mess for them?

  • This might not be an issue or worry for you but might stop them from eating rather than cause themselves embarrassment. Talk about the issue and agree a way forward.

10. Sitting Position

  • Are they upright enough?

  • Is the chair the right distance to the table? Is it digging into their stomach?

  • ​Does the chair or seat have enough back support to aid their posture?

  • Digestion is aided by an appropriate sitting position. As we get older we may need to move away from sitting on the sofa with a tray on our lap to a table and chair setting. However the seat itself needs to be stable and the right level without unsettling the individual or causing them imbalance when they move from the seat.

11. Light and Temperature
  • Is the food clearly visible?

  • Is it too dark or too bright?

  • Are there any reflections or shadows in sight that are distracting?

  • Is the room too warm or too cold?

  • Has the room been warm for a while? Does the individual need fresh air before eating?

  • Has the room been cold for a while? Is the individual able to feel their fingers fully? Will this hinder them using cutlery?

  • Is the food too hot or too cold?

  • What is the likelihood of the food keeping its temperature until the end of the meal?

  • Discuss whether this is important or not to the individual.

12. Jaw Strength and Chewing

  • Will the meal need to be excessively chewed?

  • Could cooking in a different way offer a less chewy option?

13. Teeth, Dentures and Textures

  • Is the individual able to bite into the food? Is it too tough?

  • Does it have lots of small seeds or grains?

  • Seeds and grains can get under loose dentures and cause great discomfort.

  • Are their dentures suitable any more?

  • Mistake like below can happen…

14. Appetite Suppressed
  • Taste buds can be impacted by medications, sometimes leaving a strange taste in the mouth or even deadening sensitivity so food tastes bland.

  • Can the flavours be more pronounced in the cooking process? Could more herbs be added?

  • Discuss with the individual if fruit squash might be more pleasant than water.

15. Tension and Timing of Medication

  • Do any of their medications act as a muscle relaxant in reducing tension? Does this have a positive or negative effect on holding cutlery or chewing?

  • Can food be planned for a more appropriate time after they have had their medication and it has taken hold or beforehand if easier?

16. Mood and Reminiscing

  • Do certain foods cause a melancholic nostalgia?

  • Talk to the individual and discuss making positive memories about a different meal that can become a new favourite.


  • by
    Adam Brown

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