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How to Feed A Person

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

Why does a person need help being fed?

A person may need to be fed or have help during mealtimes if he has certain health problems. These may include injury or surgery on an arm or hand, blindness, or a stroke.

When and how much should the person be fed?

The amount of food a person eats may change if he needs to stay in bed most of the time. He may need to eat smaller meals more often. He may need to eat when he takes certain medicines. He may also need to follow a special diet if he has certain medical conditions. Ask the person's healthcare provider if he needs to be on a special diet.

What are the steps for feeding a person?

  • Get ready for mealtime:
    • Ask the person if he needs to use the bathroom.
    • Wash the person's hands or help him wash his hands if needed.
    • Help him sit upright as much as possible. If allowed, help him into a chair or raise the head of the bed. Put pillows behind his back for comfort and support.
  • Place items needed for feeding within easy reach:
    • Over-bed table
    • Meal tray
    • Towels
    • Straws
    • Feeding devices, such as special spoons or a syringe
  • Feed the person:
    • Sit in a chair close to the person. Tell him what food is on the plate. Describe how it is prepared if he has vision problems.
    • Ask the person which food he wants to eat first.
    • A person who has had a stroke may have weakness and numbness on one side of his body. If the person you are feeding has had a stroke, sit on the side that is not numb or weak. Put the spoon on the side of his mouth that has feeling. Be sure he is swallowing his food. Make sure the food is not collecting on the numb side of his mouth.
    • You may want to test how much the person can swallow by first giving him a small amount of water with a spoon.
    • Put a small amount of food on the tip of the spoon. If he tends to choke, add a little water or other liquid on the spoon. This will help him swallow the food.
    • Allow the person to eat at his own pace. Give him time to chew his food completely. Watch his throat to make sure he has swallowed all of his food. Ask if he is ready for more food before you feed it to him.
    • Stop feeding the person if he tells or shows you he has had enough.

What should I do if the person has a poor appetite?

  • Make the mealtime enjoyable. Ask him if he would like to listen to his favorite music. Arrange for a family member or friend to visit with him during his meal.
  • Give him 5 to 6 small meals during the day instead of 3 big meals.
  • Offer him healthy snacks, such as fruit or cheese, if he gets hungry between meals.
  • Encourage him to walk before a meal if he is able. Walking may help to increase his appetite.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.