Bon Appétit! – Eating without Cutlery

By Jane Verity ©Dementia Care International

Do you ever find yourself picking at food that is small, tasty and fun? You don’t feel hungry, but you know they are nice to eat. The food might be leftovers from a yummy meal or party foods, which are actually finger foods anyway.

Have you ever thought about how much food you can eat just by picking?

We can eat a lot when we pick, and yet still feel hungry. When we start chewing, a message is sent to the stomach that some food is about to arrive and the stomach prepares itself. If only a nibble arrives, then a message is sent to the brain asking, ‘Where is the rest of the food?’ Consequently, we have another nibble, and so the cycle continues – the nibbling creates and exacerbates our hunger. This is a problem when we are trying to lose weight, but becomes a wonderful advantage when we want to tempt people without appetites to eat.

Loss of appetite is a component of the progression of dementia and in conjunction with increased walking results in loss of weight. The availability of ‘nibbles’ or finger foods may slow this loss of weight. Because the foods come in small pieces, people in the walking stage of dementia are more likely to put them in their mouths; if there are larger food pieces then it is more likely that 1 – 2 mouthfuls will be eaten and the remainder will be put down somewhere and left uneaten. The serving of small food pieces may also promote appetite.

Many people (who are currently being fed) could safely eat independently if they were served foods that could be picked up with their fingers. A significant benefit would be that these people would regain some independence. Independence in eating not only enables people to choose what food is eaten, but also empowers them to decide on sequence, combination and the quantity of food, as well as providing them with a choice as to when they will eat.

It is important that finger foods retain form whilst being held; each piece should only be 1 or 2 mouthfuls, be entirely edible – that is without skewers and string, have great smell and taste and be colourful and nutritious. Finger foods must definitely be fun!

Foods meeting the above requirements are particularly suitable for many people with chronic health disorders, such as dementia, impaired sight, tremors and shakes, limited mobility, or uncontrolled limb movements because no physical harm comes to the person if the mouth is missed.

‘Mrs So-and-So could eat independently if we served her finger foods, but you can’t serve party pies all the time,’ is a comment I’ve heard many times. Finger Foods – A Three-week Menu & Recipes features a finger-food based menu that includes breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, and the evening meal. The menu is nutritionally balanced and based on a three-week non-repeating cycle to ensure variety and minimise boredom (however breakfast can be repeated); and the meals can be batch-cooked and frozen. All dishes are easy to cook, familiar and fun. Bon appétit!