Nutrition for Caregivers

Good nutrition is important for caregivers. Individuals who devote a lot of time and energy to taking care of others may overlook their own needs. There are several factors that may affect the caregiver’s nutritional status.

Demands on Time and Energy

Lack of time or energy can lead to missing meals or eating on the run. Convenience foods may be loaded with calories and low in nutrients.

  • Keep nutritious snacks handy. Choose fruits, pretzels, low-fat cheeses and yogurt in place of cookies, candy bars, and high-fat snacks.
  • Instant breakfast drinks can provide a quick and nutritious supplement.
  • Accept offers from others who are willing to do some cooking.
  • Keep a shopping list to help reduce time spent in the store. It may be a helpful guide if someone can shop for you.
  • Cook large batches to freeze for future meals.
  • When using an oven to reheat, freeze meals in foil to reduce clean up.
  • When preparing special meals for the patient, try selecting foods that you and your family can eat.
  • When meals must be modified for texture, prepare the patient’s portion as appropriate and save the rest for yourself and your family.
  • When plain foods are appealing for the patient, add spices or sauces before the food is served to others.
  • Minimize cleanup by using as few dishes as possible. Timesavers may include using dishes that go from oven to table or disposable dishes and pans that can reduce washing time.

Changes in Appetite

Stressful situations can reduce your desire to eat.

  • Try to eat whenever you are hungry. This may mean small snacks throughout the day.
  • Keep variety in your diet. By eating from the various food groups, you will be more likely to meet your nutritional needs.
  • Different flavors, colors, and textures may make eating more pleasurable.
  • Try to eat in a relaxed atmosphere. This may include an added bonus of spending mealtimes with the person for whom you are caring.

Social Limitations

Eating can be a very sociable experience. Yet individuals with cancer may have difficulty eating due to the side effects of treatment. Some may be unable to eat at all because of the location of the cancer.

  • It may be uncomfortable for you to eat in front of someone who cannot eat. Discuss this with the patient and, if they are not bothered by being with you while you eat, then continue to enjoy visiting during meals.
  • Individuals who receive nutrition through a feeding tube may want to time the feeding to coincide with your mealtime.
  • A patient who is uncomfortable about being involved in meals when unable to eat may prefer to do something different during meals such as reading, watching a show, or any other activity of interest.

These are only a few of the obstacles that caregivers face when trying to meet their own nutritional needs. Whatever the reason, it is vital that caregivers take care of themselves in order to continue to take care of the one who needs them most.

By Julia Thorsen, MS, RD, CDE, CSO
Certified Diabetes Educator
Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition
ACSM Health Fitness Specialist
Certificate in Weight Management