6 Ways to Get Seniors with No Appetite to Eat

seniors with no appetite

Caregivers struggle to feed reluctant seniors

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 6 ideas that will help.


6 ways to get seniors with no appetite to eat

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 5 small meals instead of 3 larger ones.

Boost the healthy calories in those smaller servings by adding:

  • Avocado
  • 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.

Some suggestions:

  • Chicken strips or nuggets
  • Fish sticks
  • Steamed or raw veggies like carrots, broccoli, bell pepper strips, or cucumber pieces
  • Meatballs

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.

Some suggestions:

  • 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 pureed 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.


Bottom line

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.


Next Step  9 more ideas to get seniors with no appetite to eat


You might also like:
Why Do Seniors Lose Their Appetites?
6 Ideas to Get Seniors to Drink More Water
Top 20 Worst Foods & Drinks for Incontinence


By DailyCaring Editorial Staff
Image: Absolute Health Care


  • Reply June 1, 2020


    Hi, thts all great ideas; but my dad is 82 and can’t have alot of those foods. He’s a diabetic w kidney issues as well as other things.
    So wht do I do?

    • Reply June 15, 2020


      Since your dad has specific dietary restrictions, it would be best to ask his doctor or nutritionist for advice. They can make recommendations that are safe and healthy for him.

  • Reply May 5, 2020

    Margie Gonzalez

    My mom is 98 and her appetite is not as good as before. She has coffee with almond milk with crackers in the morning. After that she don’t want to eat. She likes vanilla wafers cookies and sips on water during the day. Dinner time she don’t want to eat like before I would have to spoon feed her and beg her to take some bites what can I do to get her appetite back

  • Reply January 21, 2020


    Any good smoothie recipes.
    My mom does not like vegetables, meat, eggs, yoghurt, or cottage cheese.

    She has a sweet tooth – DY’s no to spaghetti bolognause but yes to jelly worms.

    She grazes throughout the day-

    It’s difficult

  • Reply December 11, 2018

    Rhonda Murphy

    Im now caring for my Dad after he had a stroke. His appetite has been bad, he complains nothing tastes good. I love the smoothie idea and hope he likes it too. Thank you so much! 🙏🏻

    • Reply December 11, 2018


      So glad these suggestions are helpful! I hope his recovery is going as well as possible and that his appetite improves ❤️

    • Reply December 15, 2019


      Hi my Dad is in hospital with no appetite especially hospital food. Mum cooked him up some pumpkin soup with garlic, red unions, leek bacon blended it up and he woofed it down he took his medicines.

      We’re doing the same today with finely chopped up chicken,


      • Reply December 15, 2019


        Those are wonderful ideas for tasty, appealing, and easier to eat meals! So glad your dad is enjoying these thoughtful meals while he’s recovering.

  • Reply October 22, 2018

    Jill Vasos

    I have found that pureed cream soups work well. I use heavy whipping cream for the calorie density

    • Reply October 22, 2018


      Excellent suggestions! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Reply July 21, 2018


    This is not helping my issue. I’m looking for ideas to cook for my mom she’s a senior in her own home dealing with an issue health wise that has caused her to loss 15pds in a month . Her appetite is nothing is appealing. And when she does try..she sometimes get the reflex in her throat and she’s done or she manages to eat very little. I now axienty and stress has a lot to do with it. But her foods are not what u mention. She don’t eat yougurt, cheese , avaucado .etc the new foods She’s old fashion food. Smoothies is a no. Milkshakes yes ..but she also takes ensures . She needs the nutrients in her daily meals. I well just have to try on my own.

    • Reply July 21, 2018


      It sounds like quite a challenge to keep your mom’s nutrition up. You may want to consult a doctor to find out the cause of her lack of appetite and her swallowing problems. It’s possible that there’s a medical or physical problem that needs to be addressed. And you may also want to keep experimenting since you know your mom’s food preferences the best. In case it helps, we also have another article with more suggestions — http://dailycaring.com/9-more-ways-to-get-seniors-with-no-appetite-to-eat/

    • Reply December 9, 2018


      Your story is exactly my mom’s. Have you found anything to work?

    • Reply July 27, 2019


      My mother had the same issues. Eventually she wouldn’t drink the ensures. She ended up being weak and went to hospital with her potassium and sodium being really low. She complained that everything got stuck in her throat as she ate less and less and got weak. Hospital ran tons of test and said her throat was good but she had beginning stages of dementia. They told me to have her swallow hard as they though liquid was remaining had the base of her throat a little, maybe from allergies. We later found out she had thrush and she was given medicine for it. I try and give her yogurt. I got her the tasty fruit flavored yogurt and put it in a bowl and told her it was pudding. She tried it and liked it. Although she had always said she hated yogurt. Off and on she has the thinks get stuck in her throat and I tell her to swallow hard and it seems to work so that she eats enough.


  • Reply October 16, 2017

    Raymond Howard

    The smoothie idea is great. I’ve been doing smoothies for a while now with my mother of 89 that has Alzheimer’s. I can add coconut oil to them easily which seems helpful for her. She loves the flavor of the smoothies and it’s a great way to get fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients into her that she normally wouldn’t get. I have found that cutting food into smaller pieces, using processors to soften or puree some foods can mean the difference between eating one or two bites or more. I also add honey or Xylitol to sweeten some things and that seems helpful.

    • Reply October 17, 2017


      That’s wonderful! It’s great that you found so many ways to help your mom enjoy food and eat more ❤

      • Reply April 24, 2020


        Hi. My mom has mouth cancer and the cancer made a hole in her cheek. She can’t understand what is happening to her and is very confused. She don’t want to eat and sleep the whole day. I tried to feed her with a syringe but she don’t eat a lot. Must I wake her to feed her? She is awake in the morning for me to feed her but at supper time she is asleep. Must she eat 3 times a day? HELP.

        • Reply April 25, 2020


          I’m so sorry that she’s going through this. It’s a tough situation for both of you. It would be best to contact her doctor right away to find out how to best manage the wound in her cheek as well as get recommendations on how often she should eat as well as how to make eating easier for her.

  • Reply August 15, 2016

    Susan Emmanule

    What a wonderful website!

    I am one of the founders of the Alzheimer’s Association, and my mother died of Alzheimer’s in 1987. I can tell, by the questions and answers to everyday issues that you have set up here, that you have really thought through very carefully questions and answers that will really help caregivers understand the “why” and know what to do for the various issues that arise when caring for someone with dementia. I had to do everything by the seat of my pants!

    Bless you!

    • Reply August 16, 2016


      Thank you so much for your kind words and support! I’m sorry for your loss and am thankful for your hard work at such a wonderful organization. Alzheimer’s and dementia are such devastating diseases and they cause behaviors that are so counter intuitive. We feel passionately about helping families solve these everyday challenges and care for their aging loved ones while maintaining quality of life for everyone involved.

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