Home Health Aide Training Part 5: Food Nutrition and Meal Preparation for Home Care Patients

One of your most important jobs as a home health care worker is going to be preparing food for your clients. There is a great deal to know about this and unfortunately, even though much of it is information which we all should be aware of, the reality is that many people tend to be ignorant of this information. Here’s what you need to know:

The Basics of Nutrition

There are three basic building blocks for virtually all kinds of nutritive food on the planet.  They are:

Carbohydrates

Under the USDA food pyramid, complex carbohydrates such as whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and similar products should make up the bulk of the diet for most of your home health care patients (the amounts will vary depending on the specific diagnosis of your patients and the doctor’s instructions).

Note that sugar and candy are also considered carbohydrates, however these are “simple” carbohydrates meaning that the body breaks these foods down much more easily and as such they are not the best choice for everyday foods.

Protein

The second building block of nutritive food is made up of protein. Protein includes most kinds of non fatty animal flesh (lean beef, ham, venison, etc.) as well as most fish, poultry and certain kinds of vegetable products. Under the USDA food pyramid, these should be more limited in the diet of your home health care patients.

Fat

Finally, fat is the third building block of nutritive food. There are a large number of kinds of fats, including saturated fats, poly unsaturated fats and mono unsaturated fats to name just a few. In most cases, fat is recommended to be limited as well in the diet of your home health care patients. There are however exceptions for certain kinds of fat which can be beneficial. It’s important to consult with the doctor if you’re not sure which kinds of fat are allowed on your patient’s diet.

What is a Non Nutritive Food?

Note that the word nutritive was used to describe each of the foods above. That’s because there are a large number of things that we may ingest on a daily basis, some of which are vitally important to the proper functioning of our bodies, but which are not considered “nutritive.” Nutritive means that a food has calories.

Water for example is not a nutritive food; it is vitally important to the functioning of our bodies, however it does not have any calories in its pure form, meaning it is non nutritive. Other items which are non nutritive even though they are important include things like minerals (zinc, calcium, etc.) and vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B, etc.). Many spices are non nutritive as well even though they serve an important function in making food taste good and in limited amounts are necessary for proper functioning of our bodies (salt for example is important to the human body, but only in moderation).

Variety is Key

The single most important thing you can do for your home health care patients is to ensure that they get a variety of foods into their diet, generally based around the food pyramid, with changes as noted by the attending doctor (i.e. while a majority of food should generally be based on carbohydrates, there should be appropriate amounts of fat and protein included as well).

 It also goes without saying that you should make sure that your patients are getting proper amounts of exercise to burn off the calories from the food that you serve them so that they can stay healthy.

USDA Guide to Health Eating

In 2011 the USDA updated their Food Pyramid and replaced it with 'myPlate'.  This new framework emphasizes a balanced approach to eating.  The USDA main recommendations for eating healthy are:

 

Balancing Calories

  Enjoy your food, but eat less.
  Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

  Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  Make at least half your grains whole grains.
  Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

  Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals ― and choose the foods with lower numbers.
  Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Dietary Restrictions, Cost Issues and Personal Taste

As with most aspects of home health care, preparing food for your clients should be a group effort where you work with your clients rather than deciding what they should eat all on your own. This means ensuring that you ask them about dietary restrictions (for example, celiac sufferers cannot eat foods containing gluten), religious restrictions (Jews only eat kosher, Muslims eat halal or kosher and Christians during lent may avoid certain kinds of foods) and of course personal taste. It also goes without saying that you must be cost conscious when working with your home health care clients since they need you to ensure that they don’t go broke when you buy only the most expensive foods available.

Preparing Food

When preparing food for your home health care clients, it’s important to ensure that you follow a number of safety precautions as well as maintaining healthy food choices. This means that you should:

Use Whole Foods When Possible

Whenever possible, you should include whole foods in your client’s diets. These include fresh fruit and vegetables as well as minimally processed grains (i.e. brown rice as opposed to white rice, whole wheat, stone ground bread as opposed to white bread, etc.).

Avoid Frying and Convenience Foods

You should also avoid frying foods as much as possible as this adds a significant amount of fat to foods and destroys nutrients as well. Instead, steamed and baked foods, especially steamed vegetables and baked poultry or meat are generally considered much healthier alternatives.

Convenience foods, especially heavily processed products (morning cereals, especially sugary ones, white bread, etc.) should also be avoided whenever possible as these often have their useful nutrients stripped away in favor of easily digestible simple carbohydrates.

Find Out How the Client Likes Food Prepared

It’s also important to find out how your client likes his food prepared. For example, there’s nothing wrong with providing your client with extra spices, assuming that there are no health considerations (i.e. if the person is suffering from gastrointestinal problems, it’s generally not a good idea to give them spicy foods). Remember as well that your choice of cooking utensils may be somewhat limited, so be sure to be creative in preparing food for your home health care clients.

What to Watch For

As a home health care worker, it’s part of your job to watch carefully what your client eats. If they are showing a pattern of eating less than they usually do, it may be a sign of a problem which should be reported to your supervisor.

Best Practices

Finally, when shopping for and preparing food of your home health care clients, it’s important to follow best practices when doing so. For example, you should store fresh milk, eggs and the like in the refrigerator. Meat products should be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to avoid the possibility of contamination from drips. Fresh fruit and vegetables need not be refrigerated until they turn ripe. You should also be sensitive to pricing and use coupons whenever possible to save your home health care clients money on their food bills. 

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