Preventing malnutrition in later life

Supporting an older person who’s lost their appetite

There are times in life when we all have a poor appetite, perhaps after a bereavement or when we’ve been ill; but an older person who isn’t eating enough can become undernourished in as little as 2-3 days. Would you be able to spot the signs? If not, read our article
Mum’s Looking Thinner‘.

Starting a conversation about food

Weight is a very personal issue. If it’s hard to discuss with the person you care for, try discussing food and eating more broadly. Is there a meal or snack the person you care for really enjoys, something you’ve baked that you’d like to share with them, or do they have a memory of a special or extra tasty meal?

Getting back up to a healthy weightINFOGRAPHIC 6 small meals are as good as 3 main meals

Always check with a GP or a dietitian before making big dietary changes, but there are easy things you can do at home to help someone increase their appetite:

If three big meals a day feel overwhelming, six smaller meals and snacks are absolutely fine. Opt for full fat milk, yoghurts and cheese.

There are easy ways to add extra protein and calories to food, such as:

  • Adding honey, sugar or jam to porridge, desserts and cereals.
  • Adding double cream to soups and mashed potatoes.
  • Adding butter, margarine and cheese to meals and sauces, and mayonnaise to salads.
  • Cooking rice with coconut milk, and curries with ghee (clarified butter).
  • Drinking nourishing drinks such as fruit juices, full fat milk, milky coffee and milkshakes made with fortified milk.


Make sure the person treats themselves to their favourite foods that are easy to eat, including cake and biscuits. To help someone eat more you could also:

  • Plan visits around mealtimes and eat together.
  • Draw up shopping lists and/or go shopping together.
  • Make sure the person you care for can open items and offer help to open difficult items e.g. stiff jar lids.
  • If you prepare food for someone, make it smell and look appealing. The aroma of cooking can stimulate the appetite.
  • Use a blue plate to help someone whose eyesight isn’t good to see what they’re eating.
  • Introduce a regular snack around a favourite TV programme.
  • Look into local lunch clubs.
  • Go out to a local café together, or suggest meeting a friend there.
  • If teeth or dentures are a problem, you could help the person get to the dentist

Keeping to a healthy weight can protect health and wellbeing in later life, so as some gets older, it’s important they keep an eye on their weight, and take action if they notice they are getting thinner or losing their appetite.

More help at home

Being aware and keeping an eye on things can help.  Ask the person you care for to keep an eye out for any weight loss, and ask if they would be willing to check and note their weight now and again.  There are also leaflets and advice available online:

Eating enough in later life – Advice for people you care for

NHS guidance on keeping your weight up in later life

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Malnutrition Task Force
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1 - 6 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9NA

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