This article is reprinted with permission from DailyCaring.
There are many reasons why some older adults lose their appetite or refuse to eat. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re worried about them and are doing your best to give them the nutrition they need.
First, rule out serious health problems
The most important thing is to rule out serious health conditions, medication side effects, and dental problems as the cause of their loss of appetite.
After that, your best bet is to experiment with different ways to get your older adult to eat. Sometimes small changes can make a big difference. We found six ideas that will help.
1. Have a regular meal and snack schedule
Having a regular daily routine and serving food at roughly the same times every day helps their body be ready to eat at those times. Don’t rely on your older adult’s ability to feel their hunger (it declines with age) before giving them food.
2. Serve smaller portions of high-nutrient foods
Some seniors feel overwhelmed if they see a large amount of food in front of them. Instead of a big plate, serve smaller portions. You could even switch to a daily routine where your older adult eats five small meals instead of three larger ones.
Boost the healthy calories in those smaller servings by adding:
- Finely chopped meat, cheese, egg
- Olive oil
- Peanut or other nut butters
- Soft cheeses like ricotta or mascarpone
To save time, you can still cook food in larger batches. Just store it in smaller individual containers so it’s easy to reheat.
3. Stop using utensils
The frustration of not being able to use a spoon, fork, or knife could make some older adults not want to eat at all. To help them eat more easily, serve foods that can be eaten without any utensils.
- Chicken strips or nuggets
- Fish sticks
- Steamed or raw veggies like carrots, broccoli, bell pepper strips, or cucumber pieces
4. Have plenty of easy-to-eat snacks on hand
Some seniors prefer to graze throughout the day rather than eat full meals. That’s ok too. Keep plenty of healthy, delicious, and easy-to-eat snacks available.
Unless your older adult has specific health issues, don’t worry too much about fat or cholesterol. After all, the challenge is to get enough calories into them.
- Cheese sticks or string cheese
- Full-fat yogurt
- Diced fruit, fresh or packaged
- Peanut butter and crackers
- Cheese and crackers
- Full-fat cottage cheese
- Whole chocolate milk
5. Make milkshakes or smoothies
If chewing is difficult or tiring, even with small pieces of food, consider serving more liquid-y foods. Some suggestions:
- Nutritious soups – enhanced with cream, olive oil, or puréed meats and veggies
- Healthy smoothies – add bananas, fruit, full-fat yogurt, or veggies like carrots and spinach
- Hot cocoa
- Full-fat milk
- Milkshakes – good quality ice cream is better than eating nothing!
- Warning: This is not a solution for those with dysphagia (swallowing problems).
6. Keep track of what works
Take notes so you can keep track of what foods your senior enjoys, what they don’t like, and what might be upsetting their stomach. You can also track what times of day they’re more willing to eat or when they have a better appetite.
Keeping track lets you experiment more with things that are working and avoid the things that aren’t.
Getting seniors who have no appetite to eat is a big challenge. Be patient, be creative, keep experimenting, and don’t get discouraged. Most of all, don’t take their refusal to eat personally. Remember, they’re not rejecting you as a person.