Assisted Feeding Checklist for Family Caregivers

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Oct 13 2023.

Man tasting food.

Many family caregivers are responsible for helping their loved ones eat.

Ensuring your loved one gets proper nutrition is essential for their health, but it’s not the only thing to consider. If you care for someone who has a feeding tube or chewing and swallowing difficulties you need to think about potential safety hazards that could put them at risk. 

To make things easier, we’ve created this assisted feeding checklist for caregivers. In it, we provide simple tips and tricks for making mealtimes clean, safe, and hassle-free. 

What You’ll Need:

Everyone’s caregiving journey varies, but there are several items all family caregivers should keep on hand for meals, including:

If your loved one has a feeding tube, like a nasogastric tube or a jejunostomy tube, ensure you have the necessary supplies. These include:

Keep all of your feeding supplies in a specific area that’s easy to access. A plastic tote or empty kitchen cabinet makes it easy to find everything you need when snack or mealtime rolls around. 

Steps To Make Assisted Feeding Easier

Assisted feeding can be a very rewarding experience, but it’s important to set yourself up for success. Here’s how to get started:

Step One: Create a Comfortable Feeding Environment

Designate a specific area of your home for eating meals and snacks. The kitchen or dining room is a great option if your loved one is mobile and in relatively good health. However, you might need to improvise if they use a wheelchair or spend most of their time in bed.

The most important factors are comfortable seating and plenty of light. You may also want to buy an overbed table or something similar to accommodate your loved one’s needs. 

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Step Two: Set Out the Necessary Supplies

Wipe down your loved one’s eating surface with cleaning wipes or disinfectant spray, and set their place with the necessary utensils. This typically includes eating utensils (like a fork, spoon, and knife) and a plate, saucer, or bowl, depending on the meal being served. 

Consider buying adaptive eating utensils if your loved one has shaky or weak hands. Adaptive eating utensils allow for enhanced grip and control, so they can feed themselves independently with dignity.

Alternatively, if your loved one uses a feeding tube, prepare the supplies and their formula. 

“When caring for a feeding tube at home, hygiene should always come first,” says Dr. Praveen Guntipalli, a double-board certified internal medicine physician based in Dallas, Texas. “After each use, syringes should be cleaned with water and completely dried.”

Recommended reading: 

Step Three: Maintain a Clean Environment

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water before preparing or serving your loved one food. Wipe down all eating surfaces, like tables and TV trays with a wet wipe or a disinfectant spray to ensure proper hygiene. 

Help your loved one into a chair or adjust them in bed so that they’re sitting at a 45-degree angle.  Then, cover their upper torso with a large napkin, several paper towels, or a plastic sheet to protect their clothing from spills and stains. 

Ask your loved one if they would like to clean their teeth before eating, especially if they use a feeding tube. “Maintaining your loved one’s oral and nasal hygiene is necessary to prevent the accumulation of plaque, fluids, and other harmful substances,” Dr. Guntipalli says. “Encourage your loved one to clean their teeth twice daily if they’re able. If not, use a toothette to cleanse their gums, teeth, and tongue. For the best results, apply mouthwash or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) to the toothette beforehand.”

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Step Four: Present the Meal and Begin Serving It

Let your loved one know what’s on the menu. This can be very beneficial if your care recipient is vision impaired or suffering from a neurocognitive issue like dementia. Show them the main course and sides and briefly explain the ingredients in each.

Encourage your loved one to start eating if they’re able to handle utensils on their own. Conversely, if they need assistance, begin serving them small portions of food slowly. Give your loved one plenty of time to chew and encourage them to have a drink of water after each bite. This reduces the risk of choking and helps with digestion.

Step Five: Help Your Loved One Stay Clean 

Assisted feeding can get messy. Don’t be alarmed if your loved one gets food on their face or clothing. Use a napkin or a wet paper towel to tidy up spills so they can continue eating with dignity. 

After serving about half of the meal, ask your loved one if they’re full or still hungry. Then, continue feeding or observing them, until they say they’re finished. 

Step Six: Clean Up and Put Feeding Items Back in Their Designated Spot

Once your loved one finishes eating, remove all of their dishes and utensils. Use a skin-friendly cleaning wipe or a wet, soapy washcloth to clean their hands, arms, and mouth. Offer to brush their teeth again with a toothette or encourage them to rinse with mouthwash. 

If your loved one uses a feeding tube, take the time to thoroughly clean it. This video from Lee Health provides step-by-step instructions:

 

After everything is clean and sterilized, return all of the feeding supplies to their designated spots. This extra step might seem like a hassle, but it's sure to save you time in the future!

Need Help With Assisted Feeding? Get In Touch!

Assisted feeding can be challenging for even the most experienced caregivers. If you’re struggling to navigate this new responsibility, know that we’re here for you. Our friendly Care Specialists routinely answer questions about this topic and will be happy to make product recommendations. Call (800) 696-CARE or send an email to support@carewell.com.

Assisted Feeding for Family Caregivers - Commonly Asked Questions

1) My loved one has a poor appetite; Is there any way to make meals more enticing?

Many older adults experience a loss of appetite due to underlying health problems. There’s no way to prevent this entirely, but there are strategies you can use to make meals more appealing. Jakob Miller, a retired nutritionist based in Staten Island, New York, suggests experimenting with different textures and flavors to make meals more enticing. In addition, instead of big meals, he says to “focus on nutrient-dense foods while serving more frequent, smaller meals.” 

2) When should family caregivers consider assisted feeding?

Your loved one might benefit from assisted feeding if they have a poor appetite or don’t show an interest in snacks and meals. 

Certain health problems can also benefit from feeding assistance. For example, if you’re loved one has Parkinson’s disease or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) holding utensils can be challenging. Likewise, if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they might forget to eat without prompting.

3) Can a registered dietitian help with assisted feeding?

Yes. Working with a registered dietitian can be extremely beneficial if you’re worried about your loved one meeting their nutritional needs. A qualified dietitian can complete a physical assessment checking for signs of muscle and fat loss. They can also make recommendations to ensure your loved one gets the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed to thrive.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.