This article was written by Kathy Swideriski, an RN for Caregiver Homes at the Springfield, Massachusetts Branch.

I remember visiting a consumer I support during lunch time, as her family was making a meal. I was able to learn about their cultural preferences and traditions and see the types of foods in their diet. They have a limited income, but they find ways to add fresh ingredients to their meals, like growing their own tomatoes in their garden. This family was already finding their own ways to balance their diets, but they struggled to cut back on some of their staple, high-carb foods. Through the support of a care team, we helped them see the importance of portion control, which has helped them eat better without depriving them of their favorite foods.

There are many possible obstacles to living a healthy lifestyle and practicing good nutrition, such as physical limitations, emotional issues, and income. With the support of a live-in caregiver and a responsive care team, consumers do not have to feel alone as they commit to a healthier lifestyle. People should consult with their doctor before making changes to their diet or exercise regimen. Here are some tips for care teams to help consumers improve their nutrition:

Listen. The first step in being able to help people on their journey towards a healthier diet is to find out about consumers' food preferences. What time do they like to eat their meals? What foods do they enjoy? Who taught them their recipes? Why are these recipes important to them? Person-centered care planning means being active listeners, and there are few things more personal than the food choices people make. People adopting a new diet should continue to enjoy their food and not feel deprived. An effective way of doing this is identifying the foods they prefer and finding opportunities to improve on those meals.

Educate. Care teams and live-in caregivers have the opportunity to observe consumer habits and preferences and offer advice that fits into consumers' lifestyles. Look for ways to tactfully make recommendations for healthier food substitutions. Meals can be flavored with healthy seasonings and less sodium, which is especially important for people with cardiac problems. Informally, I have seen people cooking with a lot of butter, and I have used that as an opportunity to talk about how reducing butter would be better for their cholesterol. On the other hand, I also let the family educate me. I find myself learning new types of meals and often exchanging recipes!

Support. One of the benefits of having the support of a care team is that we establish a close relationship with families. The home can be a very comfortable environment for families, care managers and nurses to talk openly about nutrition tips. As caregivers and dedicated care teams, it is important to remember that change does not take place in a day. Positive changes happen gradually, and care teams can help consumers stay on track by building trust and consistency.