Coping with food refusal


Coping with food refusal

By Jane Clarke

November 15, 2020

When you are a caregiver, whether you’re looking after a loved one at home or you work in a care setting such as a residential home, mealtimes can be a highlight of the day that nourish with sociability and fun, as well as healthy food.

That changes when a person refuses to eat, or is reluctant to have more than a few mouthfuls. There are lots of reasons for this – living with a condition such as dementia; feeling unhappy in a new setting; grief or illness. But whatever the cause, I’ve found certain strategies can help break the cycle of food refusal and encourage someone to begin eating again. Here are some ideas…


Make every mouthful count
If portions are small, it’s essential they contain as much nourishment as possible. Enriching foods with additional vitamins and minerals, protein, carbohydrates and calories can be as simple as adding extra vegetables to a tomato sauce, grating some Cheddar cheese into mashed potato, or adding extra lentils and a swirl of cream to a soup. 

Nourish Drinks are designed so that they can be added to classic dishes such as porridge, rice pudding, ice cream to bring extra goodness. Click below for the recipes.

Nourish vanilla rice pudding & poached mango
Nourish porridge
Nourish ice cream


Watch How to enrich potato mash


Don’t sit at the table
This sounds controversial and I am a huge advocate for the joy and togetherness of shared mealtimes, but they can feel overwhelming for some people and this is when the habit of refusing to eat can set in. Instead, try serving a small plate of food on a tray while they watch TV or listen to the radio. It can take the pressure off having to ‘perform’ at the table, and you may find they nibble more than expected. You could also serve a glass of delicious, natural and organic Nourish Drink instead of a meal or as a supplement or snack. You’ll have the reassurance that the person you are looking after has had the equivalent nutrients of a complete meal but in a form that slips down more easily than a plate of cooked food.


Read Loss of appetite


Swap mealtimes around
If the person you care for has a bigger appetite in the morning but feels too tired to eat later in the day, then provide a more substantial breakfast and take the pressure off the evening by providing a smaller snack for supper. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to having dinner for breakfast or lunch at 4pm – it’s what works best for the individual and their appetite.


Read Food for resilience and recovery


Eat together
Some people don’t like to eat alone. You may not be able to sit and have a full meal together, but taking the time to sit and chat with someone while they eat, or sharing a few grapes with them, can make meals feel a less lonely, challenging time.


Read Every mouthful counts


Follow their cues
We all have favourite foods so it’s worth trying to find out the dishes a person really loves. Even if they’re no longer able to enjoy the same meal, you could capture the flavours in a more accessible alternative – a roast chicken soup instead of a roast chicken dinner, say.

Take a look at our In Care section to find out how we are transforming nourishment for patients, residents and their caregivers

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