“Making Mealtime Pleasant: Creating a Pleasant Atmosphere” By Lisa Davey, RN, MS
Enjoying a meal is more than the taste of the food we eat. Historically humans worked together to gather and hunt for food. They relied on each other to get the food and then shared their meal. While we may not have to hunt for food today, we still enjoy sharing the meal with others. Many of our social lives center around meal times. Think back to family dinners that you recall as being happy and joyous. Perhaps it was a holiday meal with family or friends around the table laughing and talking. What made it pleasant was more than the taste of the food- it was the smells, the colors, the sounds and the people.
Because we react to the environment around us, this can make meals a pleasant experience or one that does not encourage eating. If you have ever had the experience of an awkward situation at a meal, you know it affects your desire for eating the food in front of you. We can even experience physical reactions to negativity at meal time. Stomach pain, nausea or even difficulty swallowing can occur. Stress and emotions can trigger diarrhea or vomiting. Avoiding topics and even loud, angry voices and noises is important in creating an environment that is conducive to eating.
Making mealtime an event that is looked forward to will encourage better eating.
Many factors affect the meal time environment. Being attentive to these can greatly enhance the pleasantness of the meal. Pay attention to:
Smells: A clean smell or the aroma of a pleasant food smell (think about the smell of baking bread) can entice the appetite. Make sure the bathroom smells and harsh cleaning smells have dissipated or been removed before meal time.
Lighting: A well lit room is best for mealtimes for the older person. They can easily see the colors and shapes of the food.
Noise: Avoid loud or harsh noises. Play soft music to create a relaxed mood.
Color, temperature and texture of food: Fill the plate with colorful foods with varying textures. If meat is too difficult to chew, try recipes with shredded meat or soft protein sources such as eggs, tuna or beans. The temperature should be warm or cool.
Smaller portions: Portion the food so that it is not crowded on the plate. Large plates of food can be overwhelming.
Table settings: Set the table. Use a basic table setting format to create a pleasant dining experience. Remove clutter from the table, use a simple pleasing centerpiece.
Often the days of the elderly revolves around meal times. It is often how seniors measure time and associate other events such as medication doses, bathing, social activities to the meal events. Efforts made to enhance this time can effect the rest of their day as well. It is often said, that “it’s the little things that make the biggest differences”. This is definitely true when it comes to meal time. Bon Appetit!