Seniors Need Good Nutrition: Here’s How to Encourage a Healthy Appetite

Loss of appetite is a common complaint among the elderly. Often, a combination of medical and pharmacological issues causes seniors to lose interest in eating the foods they once loved, and that can lead to their skipping meals.

Skipping meals can lead to unintentional weight loss, which increases risk for fractures, pressure wounds, infections, and disease progression, while also diminishing quality of life.

So, the object is to get seniors to eat and eat well for their overall well being. But how can you spark a loved one’s interest in food again?

For help, we reached out to Nicolle Cucco, MS, RD, CDN, a clinical dietitian at the Witherell. She offered expert strategies for stimulating appetite in these challenging situations:

  1. Keep meals (and snacks) on a schedule. Develop a daily eating routine rather than waiting for hunger to kick in. This will help ready the body to eat at regular times. Creating a schedule also ensures meals are not timed too close or too far apart, which can help maximize intake.
  2. Eat together. Loneliness often plays a key role in decreased appetite among the elderly; it also increases the risk of depression. By taking time to eat together, you are making eating less of a “task” and are creating a familiar and social environment around a meal.
  3. Get everyone involved in the kitchen. Asking seniors about family recipes, or talking about their favorite foods from childhood, can actually stimulate their appetites. Based on one’s physical abilities (while keeping kitchen safety in mind), getting the elderly involved with chopping, measuring, and/or cooking can create an exciting culinary experience they can be proud to be a part of.
  4. Make the most out of each meal. It can be difficult for the elderly to get through an entire meal, so caregivers should make the most out of every bite. Protein powders, full-fat cream, whole milk, grass-fed butter, olive oil or avocado oil are all calorie- and protein-packed options that will add nutrition to smoothies, milkshakes, oatmeal, or soups.
  5. Encourage finger foods. It’s important to ensure food is easy for seniors to eat, especially for those with missing teeth or dentures. Opt for items that can be cut into smaller pieces, like cheese sticks, chicken tenders, waffles, yogurt (full-fat), vegetables or fruit. All are great tasting options that are packed with good nutrition.
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