As we age, it’s common for elderly adults to experience a decreased appetite that can lead to unwanted weight loss, malnutrition and related health issues. As a physical therapist who works with many older patients, I’m often asked for tips to improve appetite and nutritional intake.

There are many reasons why seniors see their desire to eat decline, including medication side effects, changes in taste and smell, dental problems, depression, dementia, chronic health conditions and more. While addressing any underlying medical issues is important, there are many simple things you can try at home to make eating more appealing.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll share 20 practical tricks to help stimulate appetite and enjoyment of food in the elderly. Improving nutrition can help seniors maintain strength, mobility, and overall health as they age.

1. Add Extra Flavor with Spices and Herbs

As we get older, our sense of taste and smell often dulls, making food seem bland and boring. An easy fix is to amp up the flavor with aromatic spices and herbs like garlic, onion, basil, oregano, pepper and lemon. Consider rubbing chicken, fish or vegetables with zesty spice blends before cooking. You can also sprinkle extras on the side for dipping sauces.

2. Take Advantage of Salty and Sweet Food Cravings

Whiletoo much sugar and sodium isn’t healthy, when trying to stimulate appetite,give into salty and sweet cravings in moderation. Stock up on small bites offavorite treats like nuts, dark chocolate, olives, pickles, honey and jam.

3. Make Nutrient-Rich Smoothies and Milkshakes

When chewing and swallowing food becomes difficult, drinkable smoothie or milkshake options provide needed nutrition. Blend fruits, veggies, Greek yogurt and milk for a refreshing, energizing meal replacement full of protein, vitamins and minerals.

4. Cook With Butter, Olive Oil and Other Healthy Fats

While counting calories, healthy fats should still be included to help stimulate appetite signaling and make food tastier. Saute or roast veggies in olive oil and finish meat and fish dishes with a pat of butter. Nuts, seeds and full-fat dairy also supply beneficial fats.

5. Help Them Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Instead of three large meals a day, eat smaller portions spread out every 2-3 hours. Large volumes can be intimidating and overwhelming. Mini meals are gentler on digestion while providingsteady nutrients to fuel the body and mind.

6. Make Homemade Bone, Chicken and Vegetable Broths

Sipping on homemade broths between meals helps prevent dehydration while stimulating hunger. Bone broth offers protein and collagen; chicken broth provides hydration, nutrients, and electrolytes; and low-sodium vegetable broths give a veggie vitamin boost. All add warmth and comfort.

Tricks to make aged people eat full

7. Focus on Their Favorite Childhood Foods

Think back to favorite childhood meals that bring a sense of nostalgic joy. For many older adults, comfort foods like grilled cheese, tomato soup, PB&J sandwiches, macaroni & cheese and ice cream never lose their appeal. Embrace these go-to staples on heavy eating days.

8. Help them Eat More Pineapple and Papaya

Pineapple and papaya contain special enzymes called bromelain and papain. These naturally occurring compounds aid protein digestion, reducing feelings of fullness and discomfort. Their sweet tropical taste also encourages healthy eating. Whip up fruit smoothies or enjoy fresh chunks as dessert.

9. Make sure they Stay Hydrated with Nutrient-Dense Beverages

Dehydration is common in the elderly and can significantly reduce appetite. Besides water, sip calorie-containing, vitamin-rich drinks like low-sugar fruit juice blends, skim or whole milk, kefir, lemon water sweetened with honey and diluted vegetableand fruit juices throughout the day to aid digestion and stimulate hunger while providing essential hydration so critical for health.

10. Focus on Finger Foods That Can Be Eaten by Hand

Make meals less labor-intensive by choosing naturally hand-held foods that are simple to pick up and eat. Fresh fruits like bananas, grapes, strawberries, and cut melons eliminate the need for utensils. Other smart options include cubes of cheese, strips of deli meat, deviled eggs, yogurt, and muffins.

11. Adjust Meal Times to Match Peak Hunger

Instead of sticking to the typical breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule, pay attention to when appetite seems strongest during the day. If mornings are a struggle but interest perks up in theafternoons, move the bigger meal later when hunger cues kick in. Going with the natural rhythm can prevent force feeding when nothungry.

12. Help them Eat More Fermented Foods

Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, plain Greek yogurt and tempeh contain probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that balance gut health and digestion. This improves nutrient absorption while reducing uncomfortable gas, bloating and constipation issues that can hamper appetite. Aim for one to two probiotic-rich foods daily.

13. Make Food Appealing with Natural Color Contrasts

In addition to flavor, we often eat first with our eyes. Create a rainbow on the plate by intentionally combining colorful fruits, vegetables, seeds and spices. Salads with bright chopped veggies, fruit kabobs, smoothie bowlsand dishes with garnishes like pomegranate seeds, chopped herbs and toasted nuts attract interest while providing valuable antioxidants.

14. Set a Cozy and Calming Mood

Turn meal times into relaxing occasions by playing soft music and sitting down together at the kitchen or dining room table to chat and catch up on life. Eliminate electronic distractions and focus fully on enjoying the food and company. The positive, human connection can make eating more appealing.

15. Try Tai Chi Easy Exercises Before Meals

Gentle physical activity can help stimulate digestion while working up an appetite. Practicing 5–10 minutes of simple Tai Chi movements that integrate breathing, relaxation, and fluid mobility right before meals awakens the senses, gets energy flowing, and may spark hunger signals.

16. Add in nutritional supplements.

For extra assurance, include a daily nutritional supplement beverage to fill any gaps that may arise if smaller meal portions or diminished appetite make it tougher to meet all vitamin and mineral needs from food alone. Companies like Ensure, Boost and Kate Farms offer varieties to suit different dietary requirements. Ask your doctor which is best for your health status.

17. Make sure they Enjoy Social Dining Experiences

Instead of always eating alone, make a reservation for lunch or dinner at a senior community dining hall, or set up a weekly gathering with friends and family for a potluck meal. The cheerful chatter and laughter can make eating more fun while providing needed social connection.

18. Sneak In Added Proteins and Calories

For underweight elderly struggling to maintain muscle mass, discreetly incorporate nutrient-dense options wherever possible. Sprinkle whey or nut protein powders into smoothies, blend silken tofu into soups, bake with nut butters, stir cream or cream cheese into scrambled eggs, serve bean dips with crackersand dress cooked grains in broth for extra minerals.

19. Change Up Food Textures

Variety truly helps spice up sagging appetites. Alternate between soft and smooth purees, tender moist casseroles, crunchy fresh veggies and fruits and crispy toasted items when planning meals. The contrasts make plates more dynamic and interesting.

20. Chat with a Dietitian

If using all these home-based tips doesn’t provide needed relief from appetite or eating issues, seek professional support. Registered dietitians and nutritionists specialize in helping seniors overcome obstacles, create tailored eating strategies and formulate diet plans to address underlying health conditions that may hinder appetite. Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.

The golden years should be full of fulfillment, purpose andcontinued participation in cherishedactivities. Supporting healthy nutritional intake give seniors strength, energy and resilience to pursue passions whileaging with grace and happiness.

These 20 practical tricks aim to stimulate appetite by enhancing food flavors, textures and appearances along with making meals morecomfortable, convenient, enjoyable and adaptable. Try incorporating a few new ideas at a time until finding the right formula for success. Pay attention to what works well for individual tastes and needs. Small steps can add up to big improvements so loved ones cankeep thriving in later decades.

Here’s to many more years of happy, hearty eating for our beloved seniors! Please add any other helpful tips in the comments below.

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