Older women and eating

As you pass through middle age into older age your nutritional concerns may change. Nutrient needs don’t decrease, but your calorie needs and appetite may.

A lack of appetite, worry about cholesterol, weight or blood sugars may cause older people to overly restrict their eating. Malnutrition is extremely common in elderly people and can mean lack of calories or important nutrients which are needed for the body to function at its best. Being malnourished increases the risk of falls and illness and delays recovery.

The best way to stay well-nourished is to eat a good variety of foods from the major food groups on a daily basis. Choose nutrient-rich foods according to the following guide:

  • Include iron- and protein-containing foods such as meat, chicken, fish and eggs, or vegetarian alternatives such as dried beans or nut butter, in one or two meals a day. If chewing is a problem, choose soft foods such as minced meat or casseroles.
  • Aim for three serves of dairy foods for calcium and protein. These can include milk, soy milk, cheese or yoghurt, custards and dairy-based desserts such as rice pudding, which are easy to eat even if your appetite is not good.
  • Have some vegetables or salad with lunch and dinner and a couple of serves of fruit during the day for vitamins and fibre. Stewed or canned fruit is a good alternative to fresh if chewing is a problem.
  • Add a carbohydrate serve in each meal for energy (bread, dry biscuits, rice, pasta, potato or breakfast cereal).

Tips for healthy eating

If your appetite or food intake is not good, the following tips may help:

  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks. Large meals can be off-putting for people with poor appetites, and small amounts taken often can add up to a substantial amount of food. Good snacks include milk-based drinks, crackers and cheese, toast with peanut butter, toasted cheese sandwiches and yoghurt.
  • Eat meals and snacks before filling up on low-nutrient foods or drinks such as coffee or biscuits.
  • Tasty foods with extra seasoning may tempt jaded tastebuds. Try adding flavourings such as lemon juice, herbs and spices.
  • Make drinks such as coffee or Milo more nourishing by basing them on milk.
  • If your appetite is very poor, drinks may be easier to take than food. However, take care to avoid filling up on drinks that are not sufficiently nourishing, such as soft drinks or fruit juice. Nourishing soups containing vegetables and meat, chicken, split peas or lentils are appropriate, as are milk drinks such as smoothies made with milk, fruit, yoghurt or ice-cream. Supplements such as Sustagen, Proform and Ensure are ‘food drinks’ that contain all the nutrients and calories that are present in food, and can replace solid food.
  • Physical activity such as a daily walk helps stimulate your appetite, as does eating in pleasant surroundings such as setting the table or eating in company when possible.
  • Maintain good oral care and make sure dentures are well-fitting.
  • Use support systems to help maintain good nutrition and wellbeing. If needed, take advantage of family, friends or community supports for help with shopping. Use a shopping list so you don’t forget important foods. Meals on Wheels and frozen meals from the supermarket can take the pressure off if health problems make cooking difficult. Take advantage of opportunities for socialising such as local council-run activities for older people, which often include meals.

And above all – keep enjoying life.


The Women’s does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or use of such information or advice) which is provided on the Website or incorporated into it by reference. The Women’s provide this information on the understanding that all persons accessing it take responsibility for assessing its relevance and accuracy. Women are encouraged to discuss their health needs with a health practitioner. If you have concerns about your health, you should seek advice from your health care provider or if you require urgent care you should go to the nearest Emergency Dept.