The Top 5 Nutrition Challenges for Caregivers: Expert Advice

Kiera Powell, R.N.

Verified by Kiera Powell, R.N. and written by Brianna Maguire on Sun Mar 12 2023.

Medically Verified

The Top 5 Nutrition Challenges for Caregivers: Expert Advice

Almost every caregiver in the world thinks about their loved one’s diet and nutrition and making sure they’re getting the nutrition they need while having access to food they enjoy. But, from navigating dietary restrictions to ensuring adequate nutrient intake, these challenges can be tough to tackle without the right knowledge and resources. 

We asked hundreds of caregivers to tell us their biggest obstacle when it comes to feeding and nutrition. Then, we spoke to a registered nurse to gather tips that can help you overcome these challenges and provide your loved ones with the food they need to stay healthy and thriving.

Challenge 1: Can’t get enough calories or no appetite

52% of caregivers reported that they or their loved one needs help getting enough calories - that’s over half of the hundreds of caregivers we surveyed!

Older adults can struggle to get enough calories for many reasons, including changes to metabolism, decreased appetite, or difficulty chewing and swallowing. 

Nurse Kiera says, “Loss of appetite is a natural part of aging. Once older adults start to hit their 60s and 70s, the urge to feel hungry is decreased.”

Kiera’s Advice

“Make sure that you prioritize high-quality calories. If you’re eating a smaller amount in a day, you want to make sure you’re making good choices. Instead of a bag of chips, choose a high-protein snack like yogurt. You’ll also want to make sure you’re prioritizing high-calorie meals.” 

Carewell Tip

While real food is always the best option, sometimes it can be hard to keep up with caloric needs and maintain energy. In these situations, some caregivers find it helpful to introduce liquid nutrition for additional calories – and some drinks and shakes even come in high-calorie options that offer even more support.

Shop High Calorie Drinks and Shakes

Boost Very High Calorie Oral Supplement, Vanilla
Boost Very High Calorie Oral Supplement, Vanilla

Calories per Serving: 530

Price: $55.65

Boost Very High Calorie Nutritional Drink, Strawberry
Boost Very High Calorie Nutritional Drink, Strawberry

Calories Per Serving: 530

Price: $59.46

Ensure Plus Nutritional Shake, Bottle
Ensure Plus Nutritional Shake, Bottle

Calories Per Serving: 350

Price: $14.88 - $62.41


Challenge 2: Trouble Chewing or Swallowing

26% of caregivers reported that their number one challenge is that they or their loved one has difficulty chewing and swallowing.

Age-related changes, medical conditions, and medication side effects can all make it more difficult to chew and swallow.

Kiera says, “Strokes and brain injuries are very common reasons someone might find it difficult to swallow.” Conditions like Parkinson’s and dementia can also affect the nerves and muscles used to support muscle control, making it challenging to swallow safely and effectively. 

Kiera’s Advice

“Make sure you’re picking foods that are easy to swallow. Thin liquids are often the hardest, so try thickened foods and juices, and even thick water.

Don’t serve large chunks of chicken or other foods — always make sure that food is chopped finely or even pureed to prevent hazards when you or your loved one is trying to eat.”

Caregiver Tip

Food and beverage thickeners like Thick-It can be mixed into the foods you already love, making them easy to swallow without compromising taste or quality. For caregivers on-the-go or those looking to save time, pre-pureed meals and sides offer tasty and convenient nutrition.

Learn more

Challenge 3: Not getting enough protein

Almost 10% of caregivers reported that their number one challenge was getting enough protein in their diet, particularly for loved ones that find it challenging to eat at all. 

Kiera says, “It’s hard for anyone to get enough protein in, let alone older adults that are struggling to eat at all.” The Mayo Clinic reports that the recommended daily amount of protein is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight - for reference, that means someone that’s 165 pounds should eat 65 grams of protein in a single day.

Kiera’s Advice

“One thing I see people do that I advise against is eating a lot of protein bars or other protein products without checking the label first. Many of these are packed with fat and carbs. 

Some great quick snacks that help get protein in are eggs, turkey sausage, or greek yogurt. Another thing that’s really helpful for caregivers is to have high-protein snacks, like hard boiled eggs, in between meals.”

Carewell Tip

Many caregivers struggling with protein challenges turn to protein supplements for support. Some drinks and shakes offer additional protein support, like Ensure Max Protein or Boost High Protein. There are also special supplements that can be added to the food or drinks your loved one already enjoys for extra calories and protein, like Benecalorie Calorie and Protein Food Enhancer.

Ensure Max Protein Nutritional Shake
Ensure Max Protein Nutritional Shake

Calories Per Serving: 150

Protein Per Serving: 30g

Price: $13.05 - $50.99

Benecalorie Calorie and Protein Food Enhancer
Benecalorie Calorie and Protein Food Enhancer

Calories Per Serving: 330

Protein Per Serving: 7g

Price: $19.99 - $57.69

Boost High Protein Oral Supplement, Bottle
Boost High Protein Oral Supplement, Bottle

Calories Per Serving: 250

Protein Per Serving: 20g

Price: $12.30 - $76.38

Image Not Available

Calories Per Serving: 25

Protein Per Serving: 6g


Challenge 4: Nausea

We heard from a wide range of caregivers that nausea presents a significant challenge for those struggling with nutrition.

Many caregivers experience nausea due to medical conditions or as a medication side effect, which can often lead to loss of appetite or aversion to certain foods. This nausea can make it challenging to achieve proper nutrition.

Kiera’s Advice

“The number one most important thing is to figure out the reason why you’re nauseous. You need to make sure you’re treating the root issue — whether that’s acid reflux, constipation, chronic illness, anxiety, or infections. 

Bland food can be beneficial for those struggling to eat while nauseous. Chicken and rice, crackers, and ginger ale are all great options. I’d recommend avoiding spicy foods.”


Challenge 5: Prioritizing Real Food

Lastly, we heard from a few caregivers that the greatest challenge is getting their loved one to eat “real” foods vs. only eating nutritional drinks and shakes.

Getting loved ones to eat can be a challenge

Dixie B. says, “My greatest challenge is getting my loved one to eat real food, not just drink a Boost.”

There are a lot of reasons older adults and those with specialized needs can struggle with solid foods. Difficulty swallowing, poor appetite, convenience, and social isolation can all play a part in why it’s challenging for older adults to eat. 

Kiera’s Advice

“Take your time and have the patience to figure out what your loved one might have an appetite for. This is a great time to slowly introduce new foods and get a sense of what they might like.”

Carewell Tips

  • Try to identify why they aren’t eating real food. Identifying the root problem can help you find the right solution. For example, if your loved one has difficulty swallowing, try introducing thickeners and thickened foods. If convenience is the issue, try a meal delivery service or offer to home-cook their meals a few times a week. 

  • Mix nutritional supplements into regular food. If your loved one is only willing or able to eat a few solids a week, try mixing in supplements. Ensure Powder can be added to pancakes, muffins, cupcakes, or smoothies for additional nutrition. Additives like Benecalorie can boost the calorie level of savory foods like mashed potatoes or soups.

Ensure Original Nutritional Powder, Can, 00750, Vanilla, 14oz, 1ea
Ensure Original Nutritional Powder, Can

Calories Per Serving: 250

Protein Per Serving: 9g

Benecalorie Calorie and Protein Food Enhancer
Benecalorie Calorie and Protein Food Enhancer

Calories Per Serving: 330

Protein Per Serving: 7g

Price: $19.99 - $57.69

Need more help with nutrition and feeding?

Providing nutritional support can be a challenge, but Carewell is here to help. If you need support finding the perfect product for your needs, talk to one of our caregiving specialists today. Call (800) 696-CARE. We’re here to support you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

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Brianna Maguire
Brianna Maguire

Brianna Maguire heads up Carewell’s Customer Care Team, and serves as a resource for caregivers that need support. Whether it’s helping customers decide which products are best for their needs, answering caregiver questions, or just providing a shoulder to lean on on a tough day, her job is to make caregivers’ lives easier.