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Nutrition, Kitchen Safety, and Meal Planning

Learn more about planning healthy meals for older audits and tips on kitchen organizing and safety. In this education module, we review the basics of healthy eating. Please note – this information is provided to raise awareness. Always check with health care providers when planning for and serving meals.

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Planning Meals Using Dietary Guidelines

It’s important to choose appropriate dietary guidelines that will meet the needs of your care recipient; ask if a medical professional or dietitian has prescribed a specific dietary guideline for them. Also find out if your care recipient has any food allergies; common allergy-producing foods include eggs, milk products, peanuts, wheat products. Keep in mind some foods reduce effectiveness of certain drugs. And lastly, there may be some foods that cause gastric discomfort to your individual care recipients. 

Next, determine your care recipient’s food preferences. Avoid serving foods the person dislikes. Adjust recipes for favorite foods which also satisfy dietary guidelines. Substitute unhealthy ingredients to those that provided needed nutrients.

Dietary Guidelines for Specific Chronic Conditions

The following organizations provide suggested dietary guidelines for specific chronic conditions: 

For general information on Food and Nutrition visit Health.gov [20]; and for nutrition information and education for seniors [21] visit the USDA SNAP-Ed Connection’s website.

Adjusting Foods Served to Dietary Guidelines

Whatever dietary guidelines are used to plan and serve the care recipient, adjustments are often required for optimum nutrition. A few examples include:

Reducing sodium (salt)

Reducing sugar

Calorie reduction

Meal Planning

Once you have determined an appropriate diet to follow, and your care recipients preferences, it’s time to create meal plans and go shopping. As you plan, remember good nutrition can come from simple foods, simply prepared. Plan for one to two weeks of meals and look the time required to do this planning as an investment in future timesaving and stress reduction.

Meal Planning Tips: 

Grocery Shopping for Nutrition, Economy & Safety

After meals are planned, grocery shopping is the next step in providing good nutritional care. 

Nutrition:

Read Food Labels:

Grocery Shopping For Economy – Most households have food budgets

Grocery Shopping For Safety

Being aware of safety concerns while grocery shopping, especially when care receivers are shopping with them, can help caregivers provide better care. 

Physical Safety; help care receivers avoid:

NEVER, EVER, LEAVE YOU CARE RECEIVER ALONE IN THE CAR WHILE YOU SHOP! 

Food Safety

Reorganizing the Kitchen For Safety & Convenience

Assess the kitchen for physical hazards (ex: tripping or falling)

Check for electrical/fire hazards such as frayed electrical cords, overloaded plugs, and natural gas leaks. After assessing, arrange for needed corrections, repairs, and upgrades.  

Safety Equipment: Check to ensure the fire extinguisher is charged and operational. Also check the smoke alarm and the carbon monoxide alarms – ensure the batteries are working. TIP: Change the batteries when the time changes to/from Daylight Savings time. 

Hazardous Materials in the Kitchen: Kitchens contain hazardous materials! To help keep the kitchen a safe place, ask, “What is the worst that could happen if this product were used inappropriately?” Then develop strategies to avoid that possible outcome.

Assess the Abilities of Care Receiver(s)

Every care receiver is unique, with individual strengths and weaknesses. Caregivers need to assess the functional abilities of care receivers to identify the best possible care consult professionals, as needed. Assess their physical abilities and limitations, such as: 

Sharing the Kitchen with the Care Receiver

Care recipient independence is a prime goal for caregivers. Since both the care receiver and caregiver may share the kitchen space, duties, equipment and food, strive to reduce conflicts by making changes tactfully and with the care recipient’s participation. Use this collaboration as an opportunity to “chunk the junk.” De-clutter cabinets, shelves, drawers, pantries. Since this may be a major job, take it one shelf or drawer at a time encourage care receiver to give away unneeded items to family or friends, give to a charity, or to have a garage sale. Determine if adaptations are needed for mobility equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers. 

Tips on arranging the kitchen

”A place for everything and everything in its place” equals a stress reducer for the caregiver(s), especially if there are two or more caregivers.

Safe Food Handling Practices

Sickness can be caused by food that still looks, smells, and tastes “OK”. Even a tiny taste can cause illness. Once food has become contaminated with bacteria, it may not be possible to make it safe to eat–by any means. Since many care receivers have weakened immune systems and are vulnerable to food-borne illnesses. Avoid infections by following safe food handling practices:

Cleanliness helps prevent infection

Preparing Food
Avoid cross-contaminating other foods when preparing meats, poultry, fish and eggs. Example: Do not use cutting board for chopping vegetables after it has been used for cutting meat–disinfect thoroughly first. 

Easy Meal Preparation

After all the preliminary work is done (planning meals from appropriate Dietary Guidelines, shopping for groceries, being certain that the kitchen is safe) it’s finally time to prepare meals for the care receiver – in ways that are easy on the caregiver. To make meal planning easy on the Caregiver plan ahead, use very simple recipes, and cook in quantity so the food can be served several times.

Example 1 – BAKED CHICKEN – can be served as:

Example 2 – COOK IN QUANTITY – freeze in portions to serve over time:

Tips: 

Meal Times

Your care recipient may prefer (or may be prescribed) to have several smaller meals, rather than the traditional “three squares.” For example, breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus mid-morning, mid-afternoon, bedtime snacks. Smaller, more frequent meals help keep blood sugar levels more constant. Mealtimes and snack times can become daily “events” to be anticipated with pleasure.

Food

Chewing & Swallowing

Serving Sizes

Place Settings

Physical Comfort

Social Comfort

If The Care Receiver Dines Alone

Making Mealtime Pleasant For the Care Receiver

Mealtimes are not just about food, they provide the opportunity for socialization, & mark the times of the day, they can be a meaningful, enjoyable activity to be anticipated with pleasure for the care receiver. As needs change, mealtimes can become uncomfortable, frustrating and unpleasant. Caregivers can help avoid this by making thoughtful and appropriate changes.

Letting Go

Realize that as the end of life nears, systems of the body begin to shut down. Coaxing a care receiver who is in this stage to eat and drink only causes them greater discomfort. Follow the physician’s guidelines, and when this time comes, find the strength to let go. Seek other meaningful ways to provide care and comfort for the care receiver and solace for yourself.

 Resources for Caregivers

Use resources such as Area Agency on Aging [22] (AAA). Types of assistance provided by AAAs:

Assistance available through AAAs for persons age 60 and older may include:

Be sure to check out our Resource Directory [23]FAQ [24], and Educational Events Calendar [25] for more great information! Permission is granted to duplicate any and all parts of this page to use in education programs supporting family members caring for elders. 

Reviewed March 2022

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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