Pleasant ambience complements good nutrition

Ruth Z.W. Johnson

Posted Jun. 6, 2016 at 12:01 AM


Ruth Z.

Today’s column is the second in a series that will address practical ways caregivers can enhance the physical, mental and spiritual health of their loved ones. Last week’s topic was nutrition. Of course, the first guideline is taking into consideration any dietary restrictions, followed by providing well-balanced meals that are healthy and tasty.

Now, I want to shift to “ambience” or the setting for meals. I can just hear some of you saying, “Are you kidding? It’s all I can do to get a decent meal on the table.” I understand that … but let’s think about the opportunity to provide a pleasant experience along with good food. I remember reading a story about a couple that were caregivers for the husband’s father. They would have him sit at a separate table from the rest of the family because he was “messy” and his manners less than desirable. Now that is just plain mean and I don’t think any of you would do that. It may take a little more effort, but think of meals as a time to connect and take pleasure in one another.

Set an attractive table. It’s best to avoid distractions, so turn off the television, and for heaven’s sake, leave the electronic devices elsewhere. You may want to try some pleasant, soft background music. A vase of fresh flowers, especially if your mom helped you cut them earlier, can really perk up the mood. If at all possible, stick to a mealtime schedule. This is especially important when your receiver has dementia. Try not to rush through the meal. Relax and enjoy.

For those who are physically able, a meal out at a favorite restaurant can be a real mood booster. If going out is not feasible, consider serving an occasional meal on a porch or in the dining room if you usually have your meals in the kitchen.

Keep in mind that there are adaptive utensils available to make self-feeding easier. If you notice your loved one having difficulty holding his fork or keeping his bowl upright, check out for an array of devices including plates and bowls that may help maintain independence longer.

If the ability to use utensils is lost, consider serving appropriate finger foods such as sandwiches cut into quarters; small slices of cooked meat such as chicken, turkey or beef; bite-size pieces of fruit or vegetables; crackers and cheese; baked potato wedges or deviled eggs. Be creative. There are many nutritious and delicious foods that can be served as finger foods; be sure to keep napkins handy.

While staying well-hydrated may not always be regarded as a fundamental component of good nutrition, we need to consider that water is the most vital nutrient and makes up nearly 60 percent of the human body. As summer approaches, it is even more important to make sure your loved one is taking in plenty of liquids, preferably water. Recommendations vary, but six cups per day is a minimum amount. You can monitor hydration status by checking the color of urine, which should be clear or light yellow; dark-colored may be a sign of dehydration. Other signs include dry skin that remains tented when pinched, dry mouth, headache, weakness and dizziness.

Remember that using these ideas to improve the nutritional status of your loved one will have short-term and lasting benefits. Next week we will look at other practical steps a caregiver can take to enhance the physical health of the care receiver.

Ruth Z. W. Johnson is an author, columnist and speaker who has served as both a family caregiver and a nurse in long-term care. She is available to share her experiences and knowledge of caregiving with groups, both small and large. She welcomes your caregiving comments and questions. Letters published only with reader’s consent. Contact her at or P.O. Box 125, Alamance, NC 27201.