As we get older, we often eat less. So loss of appetite by disease or medical treatment can be a cause for concern. You want your loved one to get the nutrition he or she needs to maintain strength and to heal properly, so when food is found unappealing you may become frustrated and worried.
Consider why your loved one isn’t eating at all or isn’t eating the “right” foods. If your father is balking at his new low-fat diet after a heart attack, it may be due as much to fear as to how “horrible” the new foods taste. Or perhaps your mother’s appetite is fine, but dementia makes it difficult for her to focus on the task of eating. Or she craves sweets to the exclusion of more nutrient-rich foods.
Here are some simple strategies for reducing your fears, and helping to increase your loved one’s appetite:
Minimize mealtime distractions. Turn off the TV and radio. If you go out to eat, choose a seat for your loved one that isn’t facing the center of a busy restaurant.
Eat together. Create a relaxed atmosphere and linger at the table. Avoid clearing plates to encourage a few last bites.
Heavy meals can lead to nausea and discomfort, especially when combined with medications that list nausea or poor appetite as possible side effects. Aim for six to eight smaller meals a day.
If appetite loss is due to medication, change things up depending on the side effects. For example, if your loved one complains of the strong smell or taste of food, serve dishes that can be seasoned at the table. Some medications make food taste blander; in that case, you can add a lot of flavor with little additions of herbs, spices or lemon juice.
Cookbooks and websites are full of ways to sneak vegetables or protein into cookies or snacks. But if you think tricks might backfire, look for healthy versions of favorite dishes. Make small tweaks to boost nutrition or to meet the guidelines of a new diet:
If you typically cook rice in water and then add butter and salt, simmer it in low-sodium broth.
Rather than steam vegetables, try roasting them, which caramelizes their natural sugars and gives them a richer flavor.
Spice blends and meat rubs can boost flavor, but read labels and avoid those that are high in sugar or salt.