Snacking and Dementia: Finger Foods for Dementia Patients

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Mon Nov 20 2023.

Mini sandwiches.

Dementia affects a person’s ability to think and reason, but it also impacts physiological functions like hunger and appetite. 

“It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to forget to eat, experience a decreased appetite, or crave unhealthy snacks,” said Krutika Nanavati, MSc, BSc, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and nutrition editor at ClinicSpots. “These factors can make mealtimes challenging, but providing a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day can help ensure your loved one gets the vitamins and nutrients they need.”

To help family caregivers, we’ve prepared this step-by-step snacking guide, including tips, tricks, and snack recommendations. 

What You’ll Need

Feeding a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia is challenging. If you lack knowledge about food or nutrition, we recommend connecting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist who can help provide guidance around nutritional needs, calorie intake recommendations, and more.

“These professionals are able to assess your loved one’s nutritional needs and provide helpful advice on how best to support them,” Nanavati said. “They can also reveal any underlying medical problems that may need further investigation and treatment.”

There are many free programs available to families supporting loved ones with dementia. For example, the Family Caregiver Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Association offer feeding and nutrition resources. 

How To Choose Snacks for Someone with Dementia

Step 1: Consider Your Loved One’s Physical Capabilities

Dementia affects everyone differently. Some people maintain a healthy appetite while others have problems chewing or difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). 

“If your loved one wears dentures or they have missing teeth or dysphagia, look for softer foods, like purees,” Nanavati said. “These snacks are easier to consume and present fewer risks.”

Step 2: Ensure The Snacks are Easy to Hold Onto

Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other neurodegenerative conditions impact coordination and muscle memory. As these ailments get worse, your loved one may struggle to use utensils, like spoons and forks.

“Choose snacks that are easy to pick up and hold,” Nanavati said. “Finger foods, like mini sandwiches and bite-sized pieces of fruit don’t require any cutting and can be eaten independently.”

Step 3: Provide a Variety of Snacking Options

Make sure the snacks that you buy have different flavors and textures. Take note of the foods your loved one enjoys as well as the ones they avoid. Offering a variety is essential to keeping your loved one interested in eating.

Step 4: Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods

Many people associate snacks with junk food, but chips and cookies provide little or no nutritional value. 

“Make sure the snacks you choose for your loved one are nutrient-dense,” Nanavati said. “Look for items that are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as nuts, whole-grain crackers, yogurt, and dried fruit.”

Step 5: Serve Snacks On a Tray

Dementia often affects how people experience flavor. For example, your loved one might start craving foods they hated previously or vice-versa. 

Serving snacks on a tray empowers your loved one to make their own decisions. This alone can minimize food-related arguments and encourage a sense of independence.

Best Finger Foods for Dementia Patients

Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh, frozen, or dried fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients. They’re easy to pick up, travel well, and have lots of fiber, which helps keep blood sugar stable.

Nanavati recommends the following list of finger foods:

  • Apples

  • Pears

  • Oranges

  • Berries

  • Melon

  • Baby carrots

  • Celery sticks

  • Sliced bell pepper

  • Cucumber

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Dried fruit

“Not only do vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, but they also help maintain mental sharpness and physical energy throughout the day,” Nanavati said.

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Healthy Proteins

Protein provides energy, keeps cells healthy, and helps boost immunity. Include lean proteins in your loved one’s regular snack rotation. Think hardboiled eggs, yogurt, hummus, or small portions of nuts and seeds. 

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Whole Grain Snacks

“Whole grains are rich in fiber and nutrients that help support brain health,” Nanavati said. “Try whole wheat toast with nut butter, oatmeal with dried fruit, or a handful of popcorn.” 

Shop Whole Grains

Commonly Asked Questions

1) What If My Loved One Is a Picky Eater?

If your loved one is a picky eater, snack time can be stressful. But creativity goes a long way.

“Even if your loved one prefers junk food over healthier options, it’s possible to compromise,” Nanavati said. “For example, try substituting chips with air-popped popcorn or candy with fresh fruit.” Adding a dash of honey or agave makes tart offerings, like raspberries and blueberries, even tastier. 

2) How Does Snacking Help People with Dementia?

Great question!

“Snacking is an important part of maintaining good nutrition for people living with dementia as they often experience difficulties planning and preparing meals,” Nanavati said.

“Snacks should be carefully selected for their health benefits. But if your loved one has a particular item that they enjoy, make sure to include it in their snacking routine.” 

Even sweet treats like chocolate are occasionally OK.  

3) How Can I Make Snacking Part of My Loved One’s Routine?

The easiest way to include snacks in your loved one’s routine is by creating a schedule.

 “Set aside at least 3 specific times per day for a healthy snack,” Nanavati said. “As dementia progresses, this routine may need to be modified accordingly.”

Caregiver Tip

Talk to your loved one’s doctor or nutritionist if you need help determining which snacks will best meet their needs. 

Takeaways

Many people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia struggle to eat regular nutritious meals. As a family caregiver, offering healthy snacks at specific times of the day can provide peace of mind. And, with the right approach, it’s possible to include foods that are flavorful and fun. 

Have questions about snacking? Looking for product recommendations? Contact our Care Specialists today by calling (800) 696-CARE or sending an email to support@carewell.com.

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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.