Keep Your Loved One Healthy With Ice Cream and Other Treats

        Phyllis Famularo, DCN, RD, senior manager of nutrition services at On-site Services Solutions and a member of the Caring for the Ages editorial advisory board, talks about the importance of food, including snacks and treats, to keep your frail older loved one healthy.
        As more post-acute and long-term care community residents and staff get vaccinated, everyone is looking forward to enjoying friends, family, celebrations, and activities. However, before you start planning fun with your loved one, it is important to think about food.
        During the pandemic, isolation and illness have led some older adults to lose not only weight but also strength and muscle mass. When the body doesn’t get enough nutrients, malnutrition can result, leading to a weakened immune system and a greater risk of falls and injuries.
        Your loved one’s care team, including the registered dietitian, can work with you to help make sure your loved one stays healthy and safe as he or she becomes more active after the pandemic. It may start with a tasty treat.
        • Bring appetizing food. Even if your loved one has a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, which might normally call for a specialized diet, it is more important than ever to consume adequate calories and protein to stay strong. Most medical experts don’t suggest strict dietary restrictions for frail older adults. Goodies such as ice cream, milkshakes, soft pretzels, French fries, and cookies (in moderation) can help provide those needed calories along with some nutritional value. Of course, it’s almost always okay to have healthy treats such as cottage cheese, yogurt, and fruit.
        • Eat shared meals. As facilities open up, talk to the care team about how you can share meals with your loved one. Even if you can’t eat together, you can bring in food and treats that you know your loved one will enjoy. Offering something to eat or drink any time you come to see your loved one can make for a nice visit.
        • Arrange mealtime events. During the pandemic, many communities have worked to make meals and eating more enjoyable. They have held hallway celebrations, served meals in costume, and had special events like virtual ice cream socials and pizza nights. Think of ways to make eating a more pleasant experience for your loved one. For instance, you could bring in favorite music or a Christmas-in-July meal of family favorites.
        • Skip the supplements. It is recommended that you offer your loved one only food and beverages during your visit rather than supplements. Homemade or commercially purchased milkshakes are almost as nutritious as a supplement.
        A few other tips to help your loved one eat better include:
        • Make sure he or she has any needed aids, including dentures and glasses.
        • Have your loved one eat sitting upright, and out of bed when possible.
        • Remove (or at least minimize) unpleasant or distracting sights, sounds, and smells.
        • Season the food according to your loved one’s tastes.
        • If your loved one is unable to feed him or herself, talk to the care team and offer help (as possible) with feeding. Consider assistive devices that can make eating easier, such as weighted utensils, nonskid plates and bowls, utensil holders for better grip, and platforms that raise a dinner plate to reduce the distance from the plate to the mouth.
        • Of utmost importance: ensure that the foods that you bring are a safe texture for your loved one. Make sure that you check with the care team for any special diet needs.
        Of course, it is important to follow the community’s visitation policies and other COVID-related guidance in the coming months. However, do what you can to help ensure that your loved one is eating and getting enough nutrition (and hydration). If you have questions, reach out to the care team. Working together, you can keep your family member or friend safe and happy as we emerge from the pandemic and activities such as trips to the dining room, exercise programs, and activities such as walks around the community, both inside and outside, become possible.

        Questions to Ask Your Practitioner or Care Team Members

        • How do I know if my loved is getting enough nutrition?
        • My loved one only wants to eat certain foods. Is that okay?
        • My loved one loves cookies, but he/she has diabetes. Is it okay to give him/her cookies?
        • Are there any foods that my loved one definitely shouldn’t have?

        What You Can Do

        • Bring favorite foods to your loved one (with the practitioner’s approval).
        • Make sure the staff knows about any special food and beverage likes and dislikes your loved one has.
        • If you notice that your loved one isn’t eating or has lost interest in food, alert a nurse or dietitian.

        For More Information

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        In moderation, treats such as ice cream can help provide those needed calories along with some nutritional value.
        Photo by Ian Dooley on Unsplash.
        This column originally appeared online and in print in (
        Caring for the Ages is the official newspaper of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine and provides post-acute and long-term care professionals with timely and relevant news and commentary about clinical developments and about the impact of health care policy on long-term care. Content for Caring for the Ages is provided by writers, reporters, columnists, and Editorial Advisory Board members under the editorial direction of Elsevier and AMDA.
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