Caregiver Tips for Improving an Elder's Appetite

By  Beth Scholer, CC, CDM, CFPP

We know that sometimes just getting an elder to eat can be a challenge.  They may tell their caregiver they are not hungry or food just doesn’t appeal to them. Research has confirmed time and again that good nutrition can improve medical conditions and increase an elder’s vitality.

Mealtime Interventions

Loneliness, side effects of medication and chronic disease can all contribute to poor appetite. Try these practical tips to increase food intake:

✓    Serve the largest meal when the elder is most alert, usually in the morning.

✓    Offer small meals more frequently and focus on smaller portions.  An overly full
       plate can overwhelm an elder.

✓    Focus on lesser amounts of nutrient dense foods than overall volume.  For
      example, a whole plate of pasta contains mostly carbohydrates which are
      quickly digested and converted to glucose.  Try bite sized pieces of protein,
      fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods for more balanced nutrition.

✓    Keep easy-to-eat snack items in plain sight.  Fill a basket with whole grain
      crackers, dried fruit, protein bars or trail mix.  Remember that opening
      packages can be a challenge for those with dementia or arthritis.  Consider
      re-packing snacks or starting to open the package for them. Cold snacks should
      be kept front and center in the refrigerator, ready to eat.

✓    Serve finger foods for those who have trouble using eating utensils.  Make sure
      foods are cut into bite sized pieces.

✓    Encourage daily exercise and time outdoors.  Studies have shown this improves

Make Mealtime an Enjoyable Experience

Make mealtime the highlight of an elder’s day by creating an enjoyable experience.  Small details like setting the table with a colorful table cloth or fresh flowers from the garden can improve mood and appetite.    

Setting the table with a colorful table cloth or fresh flowers from the garden can improve mood and appetite.

Boost Food’s Flavor

Reduction in the sense of smell and taste is a natural part of aging. Flavor and aroma both play a role in appetite so boosting food’s flavor often improves intake.  Use extra seasoning like onion, garlic, black pepper, herbs and spices to add flavor appeal.  Avoid overuse of salt as it can contribute to fluid retention and hypertension. 

Don’t Fill Up on Fluids

Serve beverages between meals to prevent an elder from filling up on fluids.  Encourage plain water but calorie dense drinks, like protein shakes or smoothies are ok as well.  Keep in mind that fluids are a necessary part of a healthy diet. Fluids flush away toxins, improve digestion and reduce constipation. 

Offer Encouragement

Even if a client says she isn’t hungry, trying some of the tips I’ve mentioned can help her get vital nutrients.  Remind her that eating well can reduce symptoms of chronic disease and give her the energy to do the things she enjoys. Encouragement from a caregiver can make a world of difference.


Chef Beth Scholer is certified by the American Culinary Federation and Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals. She is a food scientist, culinary instructor, author and founder of Caregivers Kitchen. She can be reached at


Reardon, B. MS, RD, LDN. How Can I Get Someone to Eat When She Says She’s Not Hungry?Duke Integrative Medicine. Updated 20 Nov. 2015.  Web. 16 May. 2016.

Scholer, B. (2015) Culinary Skills for Caregivers. Lakewood, CA.  Avid Readers Publishing Group.