Purpose of the study To describe the food and dining experience of people with cognitive impairment and their family members in nursing homes. Design and methods Interviews and focus groups with people with cognitive impairment and their family members (n = 19). Thematic analysis was undertaken using NVivo10 data analysis software package to determine key themes. Results The main themes identified tracked a journey for people with cognitive impairment in nursing homes, where they initially sought to have their individual needs and preferences recognised and heard, expressed frustration as they perceived growing barriers to receiving dietary care which met their preferences, and ultimately described a deterioration of the amount of control and choice available to the individual with loss of self-feeding ability and dysphagia. Implications Further consideration of how to incorporate individualised dietary care is needed to fully implement person-centred care and support the quality of life of those receiving nursing home care.