Helping to Make Healthy Eating Choices

A woman with question marks above her head considers her food options. On the left, there is pizza, candy, soda, a burger and fries. On the right, there is bananas, apples, broccoli, yogurt, fish and lettuce.

Everyday Lives: Values In Action promotes self-direction, choice, and control. Self-direction is possible when: 

  • A persons’ rights are respected, 
  • The right to make mistakes is given, 
  • A person is helped to put their decision in place.  

We must respect people’s right to make decisions about the “big things” in their lives, as well as the smaller things, including what to eat.  

People who provide support often ask the question: “How do we help a person to make healthy eating choices?”  

It can be difficult balancing the “important to” with the “important for.” Family members and support staff may find it difficult to not act as a parent. Caring, well-intentioned people may find it difficult to give the same respect they afford other adults in their lives. Support staff can struggle with helping people to make healthy choices in fear they will violate their rights. 

Research about healthy eating and people with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (IDD) offers information to help boost success with building healthy habits.

The common key to success was knowledge!  

Empowerment of the person and their supporters with good working knowledge is most effective. Boosting everyone’s skills and knowledge leads to the best success. Nutritional education for individuals with IDD, family and support staff is available from many sources including:  

Cartoon image of four women standing side by side holding brown bags of healthy food items.

Another area for success is the amount of faith the individual has in the staff to give good information (CareGivers). Hire staff who practice healthy living. Hire staff who have nutritional competency. Look for staff members at fitness clubs and universities’ athletic and rehab science departments.  

People with IDD and staff who thought healthy eating to be too hard did not make good choices. People without good education about healthy eating thought it was too hard (Journal of Applied Research).  Attitudes about meal planning, shopping and preparation can improve with accessible information, tools, and practice.

Provide information, kitchen gadgets, recipes and guides from reputable resources and clinicians. Doctor’s offices or hospital dietary departments usually have quick guides on nutrition, food groups and counts. Share easy-to-use information often and store information in an easy to access place.  

In whatever approach you use, it is important that you first consider the needs and preferences of the person. Use of participant-maintained progress charts or on-line applications can help focus on the short-term goal. Remember, do with, not for. It is critical that the person is included in the design and implementation of the approach.  

And lastly…Know that healthy eating habits will not occur overnight. With information and practice, gains in potential success will occur every day!