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Adaptive Feeding Devices

By: Debbie Zwiefelhofer, RDN, LD. Debbie is the President for Nutrition Affairs LLC, Minneapolis, MN. Visit or contact her at

Sometimes it is not so much about exactly “what is dinner?” as it is how dinner is going to get eaten? Adaptive feeding devices are valuable tools that can often be overlooked or undervalued as a key component of a feeding plan for individuals with feeding disabilities. A whole world of specialized mugs, plates, utensils, and more exist as specialized “tools” to assist individuals with their feeding independence.

Non-skid /Non-slip Mats

Having independence is sometimes as simple as being able to have things stay put. If you have ever tried to manipulate something with your non dominant hand or an arm in a sling you know all about “staying put”.   Non-skid mats make great mealtime placemats for holding dishes in place but that is just the start.

These non-skid mats are helpful for chair trays, wheel chair seats (especially for people who use their chair as a utility cart), foot rests, bed/chair side tables, or literally anywhere you don’t want something to slide around. The non-skid material can also be cut and wrapped around toothbrush handles, wheelchair handles, razors, cell phones, and so on.   Take a look from room to room and see what might be helpful to someone who struggles with dexterity.

Cups /Mugs


Before you buy a special mug; check out all the various drinking bottles, cups and mugs that are in retail stores. It is possible that a “standard” drinkware item might work well for someone who needs feeding assistance. However, if something special is still needed the options for available adaptive feeding cups and mugs is quite extensive. Drinking vessels come in a variety of sizes and most tend to fall into use for either 1) limited range of motion; or 2) for ease of self-feeding and reducing spillage. Cups can also be bottom weighted to prevent tipping over.

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Sometimes the cup needs a lid! A variety of lids (see Lid Chart) are also available to help with everything from reducing spills to controlling the amount of liquid dispensed with each tip or sip.

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Plate Guards


Nope – Not the guy in a cap and vest that watches for food thieves! You may have heard of a plate guard, food guard, or food bumper – all just different terms for the same tool. Plate guards will be either a stainless steel or plastic rim that is designed to snap onto the edge of a plate. The purpose of a plate guard is to create a high edge that helps food go onto the eating utensil and not off the plate and onto the table. The main benefit of a plate guard over other specialty plates is being able to use the regular plate that everyone else at the table is getting their food served on.   Besides the plate guards there are all kinds of special plate designs (Plate Chart) that help to address different self-feeding challenges.

Plate Chart

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Not every food can be a ‘finger food’ and luckily there are many utensil options. Grip size and overall utensil weight are going to be determining factors for special utensil selection (Utensil Chart).


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The healthcare team can help determine which tool or tools can help with independence whether for eating or other activities of daily living. When it comes to eating, keep in mind that sometimes a bowl will work better than a plate. And, sometimes a handled cup works better then a bowl. Likewise, a spoon might be easier to eat with than a fork. Bon appetite!

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