Bringing joy to EATing - Nursing Homes & Memory Care Facilities

Bringing joy to EATing - Nursing Homes & Memory Care Facilities


One thing that was confirmed during my years of clinical practice as a speech language pathologist was that for many eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. This theory holds true, if not more, in nursing homes and memory care facilities.  Many residents begin their day with a health care worker hurrying them to the dining room to get ready for breakfast.  Once this is completed, within a few hours everyone is preparing for lunch and then an afternoon snack during a group event followed by dinner.  In some settings, a late-night snack is also provided.

Dining is a social experience that can provide a sense of community, enjoyment and togetherness.  It is an integral part of the resident experience and may have a profound impact on the quality of life for many older adults in nursing homes.  The trend of providing innovative approaches to dementia residents dining experience is both realistic and attainable.  Many individuals dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or some form of cognitive dementia will show similar behaviors when it comes to feeding and eating.  There may be some things that could be done during meal times to encourage eating and provide a joyful experience for you and your loved one.


Using finger foods with people who have dementia can help preserve dignity, cultivate independence, increase self-esteem and stimulate the desire to eat.  Finger foods that are easy to pick up and chew, portable, and remind your loved one of positive childhood memories may provide the best outcomes. Slices of bananas, cheese cubes, bite size pieces of French toast, cooked carrot coins, finger jello are just a few options you might try. 


Consider having a young person join the resident at the table during a visit to a memory care facility.  Children benefit from having opportunities to interact with seniors.  Children have the opportunity to learn that people grow old but at the same time, regardless of age, almost everyone enjoys sharing a treat.  In supporting older adults, even though young, children can be valuable helpers.  Too many seniors enjoying conversation and a snack with a child can be enjoyable and may increase their desire to eat.


The eating experience may also be enhanced by a thoughtful food presentation. In memory care facilities, it may be beneficial to trial a few approaches to see which ones work best for each individual resident.  For example, providing meals and snacks on a beautiful plate with a colorful tablecloth could encourage eating.  A clean and simple setting may help decrease distractions for another.

Distributing snacks from a cart or tray may promote interaction. Creating a festive occasion or “happy hour” experience can often make residents feel as if they are receiving a special treat.  They may be encouraged to get involved simply because they see others participating.

Some individuals may frequently wander throughout the day.  I have been surprised to see how many folks will pick up food items and snacks during their day from locations that are not typically associated with dining.  It may work to put snacks in window sills or on clothes dressers in their room.

Providing a visual cue of how or when to eat may also be beneficial to some. Showing someone how to eat or providing a mirror during meals and snacks can sometime promote oral intake. 

Finally, if possible it may be effective to reduce noise or provide calm soothing music during meal time or when enjoying a snack. This allows individuals to focus strictly on eating and swallowing.


If your loved one is in need of additional calories it may be helpful to provide a late-night snack.  In some cases, people may eat more at night.  Often their choice for late night snacking will also be more calorie dense.  Because the person will be sleeping after the snack and not up walking around they may be able to actually reduce the number of calories they’re burning.


There was nothing more rewarding as a speech pathologist than seeing my patients and their families happy.  So, when I decided to take the leap and design a snack bar for those with difficulty eating or enjoying food I specifically thought of those that I served in memory care facilities. 

The idea of a delicious treat that provides easy calories and was easy to chew seemed perfect for this population.  It was created to be hand held like a finger food to promote self-feeding.  The flavors were bold to help with those who had decreased taste and sensation.  The sweetness would help to remind some of them of their childhood.  The directive EAT would provide a visual cue so they would know what they were supposed to do. 

This is how theEATBar was created.  Read more and find out if it is something that could be enjoyed by your loved one @