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​Planning meals and dietary requirements is one of the most important roles you have as a full-time caregiver. While it may seem difficult at times, these three steps should make it easier.

STEP ONE — UNDERSTANDING THEIR NEEDS

There is no hard and fast rule to dietary planning, as needs vary with each individual and medical condition. Generally, a good approach involves finding out from your loved one’s doctors what their illness entails, then talking to a dietitian to see if any special diet is needed to maintain physical wellbeing. Here are some concerns to address before meal planning. 

Food, Fluid and Drugs : aside from dosage, don’t forget to read the usage instructions on medication labels. Find out from the doctor or pharmacist whether the medication is to be administered with or without food, and if you need to be aware of drug-food interactions such as dairy or grapefruit juice. You can find out generic drug-food interaction information here.

Critical and Chronic Illnesses: canceror chronic illnesses are associated with appetite loss because of several factors such as drugs, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and just being in a hospital environment. Consult a dietitian if your loved one has a poor appetite and/or is losing weight unintentionally. Dietitians can help you plan an appropriate diet to manage your loved one’s illness.

Dietary Restrictions: consuming certain types of food could be unhelpful for certain medical conditions. If your loved one is living with diabetes​​, for example, you need to pay attention to his or her carbohydrate intake. You will also need to modify the consistency of food or switch to non-solid or liquid foods if they have difficulty swallowing​. It is highly recommended that you consult a dietitian​​​. They can use their professional expertise to help you work around dietary restrictions and still ensure a nutritious diet in line with managing your loved one’s illness.

Appetite and Weight Changes: consistently monitoring and recording weight loss or gain can be helpful as these fluctuations can indicate changes in medical conditions. Persistent changes may require medical attention, so let the doctor know of any changes. 

STEP TWO — PLANNING MEALS & FOOD RECORDS

Plate Portions: the rule of thumb​ in meal planning is to portion half a plate with fruit and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and another quarter with meat or other protein-rich foods. Apply this rule only if your loved one does not need to follow a special diet. To better visualise what to include in a meal, check out My Healthy Plate​

Food Records: keeping a record of what and how much has been eaten can be helpful. If your loved one is admitted to hospital, the meal plan can serve as a diet history to assist medical professionals in their examinations. 

STEP THREE — CHANGING MINDSETS 

As the gatekeeper of food in the household, there are lifestyle adjustments that you may want to consider so as to avoid a burnout on your part and for the wellbeing of your loved one.

Remember to Hydrate: it is important to hydrate, but it is easy to forget when you cannot feel the thirst on your loved one’s behalf. Water is the preferred choice​, but be sure to note medical advice from doctors or dietitians as certain medical conditions may have fluid restrictions or encourage  calorie-dense fluids (e.g. milk or juice) rather than water.

Make a Grocery Checklist: It may be tempting to stock up on unhealthy foods like crisps or sweets when grocery shopping. One useful tip is to make a grocery list and stick to it — this will help with last-minute temptations. If you need snacks go for nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and even dairy products such as yogurt.

Make Eating Enjoyable: food can play a big part in a person’s life and not being able to enjoy his/her favourite food or drink due to certain dietary restrictions may leave them miserable. To counter this, find other ways to make meal times enjoyable. For example, have meals as a family, or try different dishes with new flavours.