Eating while in hospital, in care homes or if you rely on someone else for your meals

Eating nutritious food and getting enough to drink whilst in hospital, is important to speed up recovery. In a care home or your own home, it’s important that you enjoy your food, have enough to eat and drink, and get the help you need to eat and drink when you need it.

What to expect

When anyone is admitted into hospital or a care home, they should expect to be weighed. This is an important measurement that tells if patients are undernourished and if they need a special diet, gadgets or implements to make eating easier. If there is concern about your nutritional status, you should expect to have a nutritional assessment from either a specially trained nurse or a dietitian.

It’s sometimes tricky when someone else provides your food. It is important that you tell them:

  • If you need help with eating or drinking.

  • The food that you like and what you don’t like

  • How do you like food cooked, for example, vegetables hard or well done?

  • Portion size

  • When you like to eat your main meal.

  • Don’t be worried about asking what happens if you miss a meal or need an extra snack.

As a friend or relative

  • Don’t be shy to ask staff if the person has eaten all their meals.

  • Ask for additional food service if they are hungry or have missed a meal.

  • If you are worried about food or fluid intake, mention it to the staff.

  • If you feel that the cared-for person is losing weight, mention it to the staff until your concerns have been addressed.

Sometimes it can be challenging when we are in environments where other people are responsible for providing the food that we eat.

You should expect: 

  • Easy to open food packaging 

  • Finger food and snacks to always be available

  • Help for those who are unable to feed themselves.
  • Food to meet religious or cultural needs and special diets.

The Care Quality Commission oversees the standard of food in hospitals and care homes. There is also an inspection called PLACE (Patient-Led Assessments of the Care Environment) for hospitals. These reports indicate if nutrition and hydration are organisational priorities.

Support with eating and drinking

Sometimes we need help to eat and drink. This can be overlooked in hospitals, care homes, and domiciliary care, but also by our friends and family at home. Sometimes, if we see people struggling to eat we feel a bit uncomfortable offering to help. Older people also feel uncomfortable to ask for help.

Here are some practical ideas which can help you support someone with eating and drinking :

  • Be respectful of dignity
  • Get over your own embarrassment
  • Check the person sitting is in the best position for eating
  • Make sure the person who needs help feels comfortable – sit down and be at the same level as them
  • Ensure the person is in control of their meal – asking what they would like, for example, meat with vegetables.
  • Ensure food is cut into bite-size pieces
  • Have a chat while they eat, give them time to chew and enjoy their meal