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Where did my appetite go? Tips for older adults

Elderly person eating pizza

Living on your own as an older adult has its rewards but can also bring on loneliness.

Add the fact that interest in food changes as we age, meal times are especially challenging when your appetite ‘goes out the window’, says Wendy Lopez, a registered dietitian at St. John’s Rehab who is doing research on a meal assistance program that engages specially trained volunteers to assist patients with meal-time tasks while supporting them through socialization.

Interest in food indeed relates to how we socialize around it. Our appetites are also influenced by what we can taste and smell. Medications can sometimes affect those senses. Older adults may also have chewing or swallowing challenges and need to avoid certain foods that do not mix with medications.

If your appetite is not great, you can get full if you drink fluids first. Try drinking your fluids after your meals.

You can get nutrition details and food suggestions here and try this calculator to help figure out your daily dietary intake.

Small but mighty

But what’s the harm in eating less? Wendy says older adults are at higher risk of muscle loss and falls so it is important to get a variety of foods and to include a source of protein with every meal.

If you’re not eating a lot, Wendy suggests to eat small, frequent meals. Choose nutrient-dense foods higher in protein such as chicken, fish, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu, peanut butter, beans and nuts. Choose foods that are moist and easy to chew. Add herbs and spices for flavour instead of salt. For individuals on a tighter food budget, she suggests using high protein skim milk powder to enrich soups, oatmeal, muffins and puddings.

Make the most out of meal times

Cooking for yourself may seem daunting. Why not prepare meals at a time when you are on less medications or experiencing less side effects? Cooking larger batches can be helpful. Meals can be frozen for a later time. Little things like putting on music, adding flowers or using a placemat can create a pleasant environment which may help you eat better, adds Melissa Sobie, also a registered dietitian at St. John’s Rehab.

Skip the social tea and toast

Make the most of your social get-togethers. If you’re meeting a friend or family member for brunch, skip the tea and toast. Dive into an omelette. Add cheese for more protein and calcium!

How you can help an older loved one

If you have an older adult in your life, here are some ways you can help with meals:

  • Offer to do their food shopping or encourage them to come along.
  • Add an extra portion when cooking for your family. Bring the meal by, visit, stay a while.
  • Invite them to dinner once or twice a week.


About the author

Natalie Chung-Sayers