Food & nutrition

Food is more than a source of nourishment, health and wellbeing; it's also one of the ways we show our love and care.

It can be very difficult for the family when a loved one loses the desire or the ability to eat as normal. As someone becomes more unwell, their body needs less energy, and physical changes may also make it uncomfortable or difficult to chew or swallow.

However, you can help by making some small changes, along with offering meals that look and taste good.

Ideas to encourage eating and drinking

  • Offer small plates of food more often
  • Present the food in an attractive way
  • Keep food simple without strong flavours or smells
  • Offer a variety of flavours and textures such as purées and broths
  • Talk to your Hospice care team about adding thickening fluids (available at your local pharmacy) if they are having trouble swallowing
  • Use straws for liquids, or encourage small sips
  • Ice chips and ice blocks will help keep up fluid intake
  • Use swabs soaked in water or other refreshing drinks.

How to manage common issues

There are many common issues and symptoms that may impact your loved one’s ability, or desire, to eat or drink. Below are some practical tips you can try to help make eating and drinking more enjoyable and easier to manage.


If your loved one is complaining of a sore mouth, offer soft, easily chewed foods.

It's also important to help them maintain good oral health. Use the steps below to help keep their teeth and gums clean and their lips moist and comfortable.

  Process for mouth care

  • Assemble the items you need, including a bowl and water in cups for rinsing the mouth; a towel, mouth sponges or soft toothbrush and paste; lip balm and mouth moisturiser
  • Remove dentures, if applicable, and clean separately
  • Clean the teeth as you would your own, remembering to be very gentle and give clear instructions as needed
  • If using sponges; dip the sponge into water then use it to swab gently between lips/cheek and teeth. If your loved one sucks on the sponge, keep dipping it in water
  • Do not force mouth care if your loved one bites down or purses their lips together. Try again later
  • Move the sponge along the teeth on both sides and across the tongue
  • Rinse the sponge as often as necessary
  • Apply mouth moisturiser or lip balm to keep the lips moist and comfortable.
  • Offer simple foods with mild flavours and smells
  • Give anti sickness medication, if prescribed, 20-30mins before meals to give them time to work
  • Give regular pain relief medication as prescribed and as needed, allowing time for them to work
  • Encourage your loved one to take prescribed laxatives regularly, drink plenty of fluids and move about if they can
  • Extra fibre may help those who are eating relatively normally. Try vegetable soups and fruit (these can be puréed), wholemeal bread and porridge
  • Some herbal teas and drinks (e.g. Smooth Move, Alpine Tea, Kiwi Crush) may help.

Offer clear fluids or foods that are easily digested (e.g. broths).

  • Offer frequent, small meals when the person is awake
  • If they are no longer alert enough to eat, stop and remove any food that may be pooling in the mouth.

Discuss with your GP or Hospice team, who will help you adjust your expectations appropriately.

  • Encourage your person to sit up as much as possible so they can swallow safely
  • If they can’t sit up, offer foods they can eat while lying on their side or back (e.g. finger sandwiches, ice blocks)
  • If you are feeding them and they say ‘stop’, then stop immediately
  • Don’t leave them alone while eating.

Only offer food and drink if the person is awake and alert.

Your GP and Hospice care team are here to help, so don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns with them. Always follow advice and suggestions from your medical team to keep your loved one safe.

Food suggestions booklet cover 2022

Easy recipes & ideas

Food suggestions for homebased palliative care has been created by Harbour Hospice to help you prepare nutritious and tasty food to tempt your loved one’s appetite.

It’s full of quick and easy ideas and recipes for snacks, low-fibre foods, soups, meat and fish dishes and desserts, and ways to make the most of convenience foods.

Speech and language therapy

If the person you're caring for is having trouble swallowing or talking, a speech and language therapist can provide advice, exercises and aides that may help.

Ask your GP or Hospice care team about a referral to the Waitemata DHB community Speech and Language Therapy team.