Strategies for Mealtime Safety and Success
Staying well-nourished and hydrated is critical to maintaining one’s physical health. But mealtime plays a crucial role in a person’s mental health and quality of life, too. Here are several strategies for keeping mealtime safe and enjoyable for your loved one with dysphagia.
Before the Meal
If they are able and interested, include the person in meal planning, shopping, and preparation. This allows them to anticipate the meal and ensure that they will enjoy what they eat. Allow cooking aromas to fill the area to stimulate the appetite. If their health care professional has provided a mealtime support plan, be sure to have it available for reference while preparing the meal. And follow exactly the directions for any food and beverage thickeners that you use.
Providing a calm and homey atmosphere can reduce anxiety and allow the person to better enjoy their meals and interact with family. Serve meals in a warm, well-lit, and inviting dining area without glare or shadows. Limit noise and distractions from a television, radio, or boisterous visitors so the person can concentrate on enjoying their meal. Provide a sturdy chair that allows them to sit upright with feet comfortably on the floor.
At the Table
Eating and drinking too quickly can increase the chance of aspiration. Encourage them to eat slowly by using smaller utensils. Begin by serving half of the meal then offering a second helping to ensure the food stays hot and appetizing. To maintain a sense of independence, a variety of adaptive utensils, dishware, and accessories are available to help people with dysphagia and other challenges feed themselves.
If you need to assist the person in eating and drinking, sit at their level, don’t stand. As appropriate, communicate what you’re doing at each stage of the meal: “Here are some peas,” “How about a bite of potatoes?” Ask them to indicate when they’re ready for another bite. And be social—talk about your day and ask about theirs. Meals are a time to connect with loved ones.
After the Meal
Encourage the person to clear their mouth of all food. Offer a final drink to help them swallow any remaining food. The person should sit or stand upright for 30 minutes after eating to avoid the possibility of reflux. If they are able, let them help with post-meal clean-up. This allows them to fully participate in your family’s mealtime routine.
Following these steps can help you and your loved ones safely enjoy meals together and provide much-needed interaction and a sense of normalcy for those challenged by a swallowing disorder.
The State of Queensland (Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services) (2013). Mealtime Support Resources. Retrieved from https://www.communities.qld.gov.au/resources/disability/community-involvement/mealtime-support/mealtime-support-resources.pdf