Finger Food for Dementia Patients: The Ultimate Guide

Person with dementia picking up finger foods with hand

People with dementia are likely to experience challenges when it comes to eating and mealtime. Using finger food for dementia patients and loved ones allows them independence in eating and can increase overall food intake!

This blog post will walk you through dementia-friendly finger food options and offers a FREE FINGER FOOD TIP SHEET. Before we dive into the tips and examples, let’s take a look at possible reasons handheld foods might be useful.

There are a variety of nutrition problems that can pop up along the dementia journey.  These include poor acceptance of food, difficulty feeding self, and changes in food preferences. Finding solutions to improve these challenges are important to help prevent dehydration and weight loss.

The first question to ask is “WHY isn’t the person eating well?  I’ll give you a hint, it’s not typically because of a poor appetite or lack of desire to eat – and there are dozens of of factors to consider. Here are just a few of the common causes of a person with dementia not eating:

  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Changes in vision or perception 
  • In pain or uncomfortable
  • Distraction or sensory overload
  • Loss of ability to use utensils or feed self
  • On the go and not sitting at table
  • Requires assistance or cues

Strategies to increase meal intake and acceptance can vary from person to person. One way to help someone with dementia continue to feed themself and eat more is the use of finger foods.

What are Finger Foods?

Finger foods are foods that can easily be eaten without utensils and picked up with one hand.  These handheld foods are typically of regular texture (crunchy or soft) and can also be adapted for mechanical soft textures–those are foods that are soft and can be easily chewed. 

How Finger Foods Help a Person with Dementia

Finger foods can help a person with dementia in a variety of ways:

  • Increased food intake at meals and snacks
  • Improved acceptance of foods
  • Promoting independence in eating
  • Honoring food preferences
  • Portable for people who move around often or those who find it difficult to sit at the table for long

Clues a Person might Benefit from Finger Foods

Observing behavior and preferences at mealtime is KEY in finding useful strategies to improve nutrition. If you notice any of these clues becoming a pattern, it’s a great time to trial some handheld options!

Difficulty Grasping Utensils or Shakiness

It is common for people with dementia to lose the ability to effectively use utensils. This might look like trouble grasping the spoon or fork or a loss of coordination in bringing the food to their mouth. 

Unsure what to do with a Fork or Spoon

The process of picking up the utensil, loading it with food and using it to eat can be a challenge for some people with dementia. Finger foods allow a person to continue feeding themself, without the extra distraction or confusion of utensils. Some people may also be resistant to feeding assistance, making handheld foods even more important.

Prefers Handheld Foods

Observation at mealtime is the BEST way to come up with a solution that works for someone eating poorly overall.  If you notice a person eating handheld foods easily and being more interested in those foods on their plate, this is a sign they might just prefer finger foods!

Frequent Attempts to Pick up Food with Fingers

When a person frequently tries to pick up foods with their hands, finger foods would likely be beneficial to them!  A person with dementia may make an attempt to pick up foods that are typically eaten with a utensil, like mashed potatoes, for example. This is a loud-and-clear signal to change to finger food options.

Finger Food for Dementia: Tips to Promote Dignity

There are a few things to consider when preparing and serving finger food for dementia patients. Ease of use, safety and dignity are important factors. Be sure to grab your FREE copy of the FINGER FOOD TIP SHEET and check out these dementia-friendly tips to help you get started:

  1. Offer variety throughout the week – avoid repeating the same foods
  2. Serve food cool, at room temperature or lukewarm
  3. Choose foods easy to pick up and hold with one hand
  4. Opt for mini versions, not just the full-size version cut into pieces
  5. Make each plate of food colorful, attractive & appetizing
  6. Avoid crumbly, slippery or overly messy foods
  7. Be mindful of texture preferences and and chewing difficulties
  8. Honor likes and dislikes
  9. Keep wet-wipes or dampened wash cloths handy for easy cleaning of hands during meal (this helps to preserve dignity in eating)
  10. If an item has a dip or spread, consider pre-loading the dip on each individual piece (example: wheat thin + peanut butter, toast quarters + jelly)
Finger foods for dementia including bite-sized quiche, chicken nuggets and mini muffins

List of Finger Foods for Dementia

A finger food diet doesn’t have to be limited in variety – each of the food groups can be included!

In addition to these ideas, we’ve compiled a list of nearly 100 foods to help you plan meals and snacks with ease. Learn more on this post: list of finger foods for dementia patients.

Grains and Starches

  • Bagels, biscuits, croissants, English muffins, toast
  • Cereal/granola bars
  • Crackers
  • Fries or tater tots
  • Pancakes, french toast sticks, waffles
  • Pasta or ravioli
  • Potatoes – fries, potato wedges or roasted potatoes

Fruits and Veggies

  • Applesauce in a mug
  • Apple slices or other fruit with peel
  • Broccoli-cheese tots
  • Cooked carrot slices
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Steamed green beans

Leaving the peel on a fruit can allow for a better grasp.  Be sure to monitor for texture safety and tolerance in these foods.  

Raw vegetables and crunchy fruits, like apples, may not be tolerated well for those with chewing or swallowing trouble (requiring a mechanical soft texture). 

Dairy

  • Cheese: cubes, slices, sticks
  • Yogurt: drinkable or in a tube

Proteins

  • Chicken: rotisserie, nuggets, tenders, grilled/cubed
  • Deli meat – rolled up
  • Eggs – boiled/quartered, mini quiche or muffin tin egg bites
  • Fish: fish sticks, tuna/salmon patties
  • Meat balls
  • Mini burgers

Sweets/Desserts

  • Brownie squares
  • Cake: pound cake in strips or cubes
  • Cookies
  • Ice cream: bar, cone, sandwich

Key Takeaways: Finger Foods for Dementia Patients

Finger foods are an important strategy to consider to help improve food intake for a person with dementia. Use of finger foods can increase acceptance of foods and allow the person to remain independent in eating.

When serving finger foods, you’ll want to consider texture and foods preferred by the person, while supporting a dignified dining experience. Offer foods that can easily be held with one hand and consider using miniature versions when possible.

Dementia-Friendly Finger Food Tip Sheet

Take out the guess work and simplify the process with handy tips to plan and prepare finger foods. This colorful resource outlines the benefits of using handheld foods and clues to look for to help you know finger foods would be a good option for your loved one with dementia. This is an essential resource you’ll want to add to your dementia caregiving toolkit – whether using it now or to stay ready for use later on in the journey. Get your Dementia-Friendly Finger Foods Tip Sheet today.

More Dementia Nutrition Resources

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Finger foods for dementia that are easily picked up with one hand

I hope you find these tips useful to improve food acceptance and nourish your loved one with dementia!

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