Someone may be messy eating because of lack of control, lack of attentiveness, or decreased interested in self-care and hygiene.

Here are some ways you can help one with messy eating habits:

  • Lower expectations and look the other way as much as you can.

  • Use a vinyl tablecloth, which is easily wiped clean, or paper placemats that can be discarded.

  • Place a napkin in the person’s lap before serving food.

  • Cut up foods before serving.

  • Serve fewer “risky” foods, such as sauces and condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayo). Preseason food before bringing it to the table.

  • If manipulating utensils is difficult, switch to a “spork,” a combination spoon-fork often sold in camping stores.

  • Serve finger foods that eliminate the need to use a utensil, such as fried chicken, chicken strips, pizza cut into bite-sized pieces, fish sticks, sandwiches.

  • At first, offer finger-food meals to everyone at the table, so the person is less apt to feel infantile.

  • Serve soup in a mug, not a bowl, and let it cool somewhat first.

  • Use unbreakable dishes or heavy ironstone that’s less likely to slide around.

  • Choose plastic cups over glass ones.

  • Serve only one or two foods at a time.

  • Serve liquids in a cup with a spout (available in some hospital-supply stores), or pour only a small amount at a time into a small cup.

  • If you must point out a mistake (mustard smeared on the cheek), sound casual and surprised (“Oh, that mustard is so messy, let me help you get it off your cheek”) rather than shaming or blaming.

  • Wash stained clothes at night so they’re not worn repeatedly (a common behavior among people with Alzheimer’s).