I was standing in a large food court surrounded by people. The person directly next to me was my boss; a quadriplegic man and he was hungry. It was my job to feed him and I had only a handful of experiences feeding others. I can say that I was a little on the apprehensive side that day. I had fed others in my life, but to be honest most of them were no more than two years old. How was I going to do this, day after day, and not make it awkward for me and my boss?
It’s been years since that day and I have learned a lot about feeding others! In order for you to not be caught in the same scenario of apprehension, I have come up with five beginning tips on how to feed people who can’t feed themselves. Here they are:
1. Make Eye Contact
It sounds silly, but the very first time that I fed someone it took me a full few minutes to look at him in the eye. Once I did, some of the awkwardness left the situation.
2. Treat Them Like Their Age
Many of the people who I have fed have been elderly folks. They had lived their lives, held jobs, had children, and experienced many things in life that I had yet to experience. I can’t imagine how degrading it would be to have someone feed you and revert to a baby voice. It’s tempting. For many of us it’s the only experience we have of feeding others. We can help elderly people retain their dignity by treating them like the fountains of experience that they are.
3. Have Everything You Need Within Reach
This part may take a little forethought depending on your situation. You may need special utensils, napkins, bibs, cups, straws, etc. Run through what you might need and try to have it close by. This decreases some of the inherent frustration of the situation and helps things to run more smoothly.
4. Check the Temperature Of The Food
Have you ever bitten into a pizza when you were really hungry only to have the top of your mouth burnt off? I have and I have trouble forgetting it for the rest of the meal, and every meal after that for the next three days. Imagine that happening to you against your will every meal. Sounds painful. Burns can really impact the eating experience and thus it is an important, and simple, thing to check the temperature of the food before you begin feeding.
5. Be Aware Of Their Pace And Preferences
It seems easy to just go to town and get this job done and move on to the next mundane task of our day, but it could be frustrating and even increase the risk of choking if the pace of eating is not held in check. Some people eat faster; some slower. It generally takes 35-40 minutes to feed someone a meal 1. Some will open their mouths when they are ready and some may nod. Be sure that the amount of food that you put on the utensil is appropriately matched to the abilities of the person you are feeding. Try asking them what food they would like to eat next. They may prefer to tell you what they want. With a little teamwork, you will both find your groove after a few sessions of quality practice!
So, there you have it! Those are my basic mechanics for feeding others. Although these things are the first steps to success, there is one more thing that will turn feeding others from a task to a meaningful part of your life as well as theirs:
6. The Most Important Tip
The magic tip is that the people we feed are just that. People. They have life experiences that make them who they are. They have many things that they can share with us if we only allow them to teach us. Relax and enjoy the company of the person you are caring for! Whether you are feeding your child, grandma, or one of the many patrons at a facility at which you work, eating time is an important time for people to feel like humans. It is an opportunity to make fun memories or connections. Try to relax and find out something new about the person you are helping. Whether it’s a new technique that will help you in the future or creating positive associations with food, I hope you can take a moment each meal to relax and enjoy the journey that you are on.
So rewind back to the story from the beginning about feeding my boss:
I spent many lunches feeding him and chatting with him. I learned so much from my time with him. Some of what I learned was:
- No matter what challenge life gives you there is always a way to give back to the world around you and inspire people to be their best self.
- No injury gives you the right to give up on yourself or on the impact you can have in the world. You should never give up.
- There is always some good in life just around the corner.
Well, what are you waiting for? Go out there and help to make the world a happier place one spoonful at a time!
- Simmons SF, Schnelle JF. Feeding assistance needs of long-stay nursing home residents and staff time to provide care. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(6):919-924. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2006.00812.x
Essential Kitchen Appliances To Have For Those With Eating Difficulties
A crock pot is a simple way to prepare meals in advance. Cooking foods, especially meats, at controlled temperatures for long periods of time makes them easy to chew and delicious!
There is no finer way to puree foods than a Vitamix Blender. It can turn any food into a single, smooth texture which is easy to swallow.
A food processor is a must have for finely chopping, slicing, and pureeing foods. It does all the work for you, which is especially helpful if your age or health status limits your ability to chop and slice foods by hand.