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How to help someone eat healthier - tips for caregivers

Posted: April 05, 2021

Last updated date: March 04, 2022

Eating healthy is important at any age, but our dietary needs change as we grow older. As we age, our bodies need less food. But our bodies need more of certain kinds of nutrients. So, eating the right foods becomes even more important. 

Later in life, food can also become more difficult to digest. Also, poor health can be a factor. Diabetes, depression and other health problems can impact eating. Some medicines can cause unwanted food-drug interactions as well.

It’s no wonder caregivers find it difficult to help those in their care eat healthy food. You should follow any directions from the person’s doctor, but this tip sheet may also help. Read on to find out ways to overcome common challenges with healthy eating.

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5 tips for making healthier food choices

What’s the best diet for seniors? That’s a common question. There may be specific issues that apply to certain older adults or those with disabilities. But the same general rules apply. These 5 tips are good to help almost anyone, including seniors or someone with a disability, make healthier food choices:

  1. Cut back on foods and drinks that have a lot of added sugar, salt and saturated fats
  2. Try to fill half of their plate with fruits and vegetables
  3. Cook with healthy oils, like avocado or olive oil, instead of solid fats like butter
  4. Use herbs and spices to add flavor to food, because the person in you care might have lost some of their sense of taste and smell
  5. Ask the doctor before adding vitamins or dietary supplements to food as some can cause problems with medicines
Dual health plans include many extra benefits that can make life easier for low-income individuals

How to overcome common roadblocks to eating

Here are common eating problems and ways to help overcome them:

Difficulty chewing
Teeth and gums can change with age, making it more difficult to chew some foods. Choose softer foods like ripe pitted fruit, canned tuna, peanut butter on bananas, and low-sodium soup.

Trouble swallowing
Older adults tend to make less saliva. That can make it harder to swallow food and even lead to choking. Tell their doctor if your loved one is having trouble swallowing food

Loss of appetite
Try adding snacks throughout the day. Cheese and whole grain crackers, apple slices with peanut butter, or celery sticks dipped in tuna salad are all healthy options.
Depression can sometimes cause a loss of appetite. Then it’s time to call their doctor.

Difficulty eating
For someone with a disability, physical problems can make it harder to eat. ALS, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and stroke are just a few illnesses that can make eating harder. Look into special forks, spoons, plates and other tools.

Be careful of food-borne illness

Adults age 65 and older are more likely to be hospitalized from foodborne illness. Here are some ways to help lower the risk:

  • Wash hands, knives, forks, spoons and plates thoroughly
  • Keep cooking and eating surfaces clean
  • Separate raw meat, chicken, fish and eggs from ready-to-eat foods
  • Cook foods to a temperature high enough to kill germs (different foods need different temperatures)

Some dual-eligible health plans include credits to buy healthy food

Eating healthy can be hard on a limited budget. The OTC+Healthy Food is a valuable benefit that’s included with dual health plans from UnitedHealthcare.* This benefit gives our members credits to buy OTC products and covered groceries at many retailers. The credits are loaded on a prepaid card, which members can use to pay at check out. They can use their credits to buy fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, dairy products and other healthy food at no cost.

Dual health plans are for people who are dually eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. Dual health plans include many extra benefits that can make life easier for low-income individuals. Credits to buy OTC products and covered groceries is just one example. See all the other benefits dual health plans may offer.

*NOTE Benefits vary by plan and service area. Limitations and exclusions apply. For details about the exact OTC+Healthy Food benefit included with your 2022 Dual Special Needs Plan, call the number or visit the website printed on the back of your OTC+Healthy Food card.

See UnitedHealthcare plans in your area.

Dual-eligible or Medicaid plan benefits can change depending on where you live. Search using your ZIP code to find the best plan to meet your health care needs.