Top 7 Foods for Elderly with No Appetite

Elderly people losing their appetite as they age seems like an impossible thing to fix, but thankfully it’s not.  As a Registered Dietitian that has worked with elderly people for over 8 years, I have developed a list of foods for elderly with no appetite.

Improving their appetite isn’t just about providing certain foods, it’s also about creating an environment and patterns that can also help.  Let me give you my top tips to improve the eating environment which will help someone improve their appetite too!

elderly woman holding utensils staring at her plate looking like she doesn't want to eat.

Top Foods for Elderly with No Appetite

The foods that are offered to someone with no appetite need to be individualized to what they like and the nutrition approaches that are taken with them. If someone doesn’t enjoy oral nutritional supplement drinks, I don’t recommend continually pushing them on someone. Instead they can be offered a homemade smoothie recipe.

With the following tips, always keep in mind that these need to be adapted to the person to ensure person-centred care.

Ensure Adequate Fluids

Drinks may not seem like the most important part of this list, but if an elderly person is dehydrated, this can affect their appetite.  When someone is dehydrated it increases the risk of nausea, which will make them not want to eat either.

By making sure someone is having adequate fluids, this alone can be the first step in ensuring that their appetite improves.  

Fortified Foods

Foritifed foods means adding extra sources of protein, calories, and other nutrients in order to improve the nutrition profile of the food.  This is a great option for people when someone has no appetite.

Foods can be fortified by using:

  • Full fat creams and milks in soups
  • Adding butter to potatoes
  • Adding skim milk powder to oatmeal
  • Topping foods with gravy
  • Adding full fat cheese 
  • Adding protein powder to smoothies, oatmeal, and mashed potatoes

The important part about fortifying foods is to always do it so the food is still appealing to the person eating it.  If they don’t enjoy gravy, this should be left off their food, or given as an option on the side.  

Finger Foods

What I have found with the elderly population is they will not always initiate asking for a certain type of food, but they will accept if given the choice.  Finger foods can be a fantastic option for elderly individuals that struggle with cutlery, focusing on meals, staying sitting, or simply want a fuss free meal.

You can find a full list of finger foods in this article: List of Finger Foods for Elderly: Free PDF Included!

Some easy examples are:

Handheld sandwiches, hamburgers, muffins, yogurt drinks, cheese slices, and baked loaves.  You can check out the full list in the article above.

finger foods including mini wraps with a toothpick on them.

High Calorie Snacks

High calorie snacks can be a great way to sneak in extra nutrition throughout the day, without adding another meal.  If someone has no appetite, it is unlikely that they will want to sit down and be encouraged again to have a chicken dinner.

High calorie snacks can be a great alternative.  These snacks can include yogurt drinks, cheese strings, egg salad sandwiches, protein bars, protein cookies, baked loaves, and egg bites baked in muffin cups.  The benefit of these options is that many of them can be fortified with ingredients above!

Oral Nutritional Supplements

We’ve all been told the old adage to not drink our calories to lose weight, but for someone with no appetite, drinking calories is a go to option.  There are many drinks on the market to choose from and it can be difficult to figure out which is the most nutritious.

All the options are comparable in calories, protein, and vitamins and minerals offered, so I wouldn’t say that there is really a wrong choice.  But if someone has no appetite, I would recommend choosing the following:

  • At least More than 300 calories per serving
  • Less than 15% added sugar
  • More than 1 gram of Fibre
  • More than 20 grams of Carbohydrates

Offer the oral nutritional supplement between meals (at least 1-2 hours between each meal).  This is to prevent the oral nutritional supplement from becoming a meal.  If someone fills up on one of these drinks, it’s highly unlikely that they will want to eat.  These are meant to supplement, not replace a meal.

Add Cheeses, Butter and Dairy

These foods are packed with calories, protein, fat, and can be a real calorie punch to someone who is eating very little.  Like I said, you want to get the most bang for your buck with each bite they are eating.  This means making each bite filled with calories and protein where able.

Cheese, butter, and dairy products can be added to most soups, mashed potatoes, sauces, or simply mixed in with the main protein.  They are also great at adding a rich flavour to make a meal taste better.

Enjoy Smoothies

Smoothies can be another great way to get a lot of nutrition in a quick drink.  Starting with milk as a base, add in protein powder, oral nutritional supplement drinks, fruit, yogurt, flax seeds, and you’ve got a great tasting smoothie.  Smoothies are usually packed with protein, calories, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals if made right.  

Check out this article to find some great smoothie recipes: The Best Nutrition Supplement Drinks for Elderly.

Non-Food Related Ways to Improve Appetite

The eating environment and creating healthy eating patterns can help to drastically improve someone’s appetite.  Having a calm, clean, home-like environment can improve the way someone feels when they are presented with a meal.  

Four people sitting at a table in what appears to be a nursing home with food, plates, cups on the table overlooking a window to the outdoors.

Here are the best ways to improve the meal environment:

  • Table clothes, flowers/decorations on the table.
  • Adequate lighting so they can see what they’re eating.
  • Quiet music playing the background
  • No television on.
  • Visible windows.
  • Contrasting plate colour, different from the table and tablecloth.
  • Positive, home like environment.
  • Make eating a social occasion, eat with friends.
  • Create a regular schedule around when meals and snacks are offered.

Consistency is key with someone who has no appetite.  Once you start implementing these strategies, it may not work at the first meal, or even the first week.  But continue to try these strategies to improve their intake, and overtime you should see improvements.  Don’t forget to consult with a Doctor to rule out any serious health concerns, and a Registered Dietitian can be a great asset to help out too!

Frequently Asked Questions

What can stimulate appetite in the elderly?

Ensuring proper dental care, making foods visually appealing, fortifying and flavour foods, appetite stimulant medications, calm and pleasant eating environment, and ensuring proper hydration.  These are just a few of the ways that you can stimulate appetite in the elderly.

How do you deal with loss of appetite in the elderly?

First you want to rule out that there is a serious underlying health condition causing the appetite loss with a Doctor.  Once that is ruled out, you can try strategies such as offering their favourite food and drinks, gentle encouragement to eat, smaller meals more frequently, offering high calorie smoothies.  These will all be individual to each person about what works best for them.  

Is loss of appetite common in Dementia?

It’s not necessarily that a person with Dementia loses their appetite, it’s more common that they forget that they have eaten or forget how to eat altogether.  It’s helpful to provide gentle reminders to them that it is time to eat, offer them assistance with meals, and adapt to their ever changing eating needs.

Articles That May Be Helpful

If you or someone you know is struggling with appetite, the following articles may be very helpful:

9 Tricks to Stimulate Appetite in the Elderly.

High Energy High Protein Diet: A Dietitian’s How to Guide.

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Michelle Saari is a Registered Dietitian based in Canada. She has a Master's Degree in Human Nutritional Sciences and is a passionate advocate for spreading easy to understand, reliable, and trustworthy nutrition information. She is currently a full time online entrepreneur with two nutrition focused websites.

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