Snack selection for weight gain in the elderly

As people age, they face an increased risk of unintentional weight loss due to various factors such as decreased appetite, altered taste and smell, and changes in metabolism. 

Outstanding home and live-in care providers at Abbots Care have assessed some of the potential risks elderly people face throughout the winter when it comes to weight loss and have identified, alongside GP and Medical Director at Selph, Dr Claire Merrifield, the key snacks that could keep the elderly healthy during loss of appetite. They’ve also included tips for carers and family members when looking after an elderly relative who may be experiencing weight loss. 

Winter brings additional risks to the elderly

Every winter in England and Wales one older person dies every seven minutes from the cold. The risk intensifies in winter as the body has to generate adequate heat to keep warm, maintaining a healthy weight is key to fighting off infections, ‘weight loss or a low appetite can lead to tiredness, depression and a lack of energy which may make you more likely to suffer from infections such as colds or flu’. We have seen that waiting times to be admitted in NHS hospitals have increased substantially over the past two years, and want to prevent elderly people waiting these times for assistance.

Almost a third of over 60s – equivalent to 4.2million – have recently cut back on food or groceries due to the cost of living crisis. The implications of weight loss in the elderly are profound, potentially leading to weakened immunity, reduced muscle strength, and increased risk of falls and fractures. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for the overall health and quality of life in older adults.

Abbots Care has collaborated with Dr Claire Merrifield from Selph to provide valuable advice on how to support an elderly person with eating and maintaining weight. ‘There are many factors that affect appetite and we know that it’s common for older people to have a decreased appetite as they age. Older adults tend to have a reduced activity level, which reduces appetite.’

‘There is a phenomenon called sensory-specific satiety, which means that when a particular food is eaten to the point of feeling full, that specific food becomes less pleasant than other foods which have not been eaten. So if an older person has quite a bland meal with limited variety, they are likely to feel full and stop eating sooner than if they had a meal with more variety.’

‘People who live alone, have been widowed or are in care-homes with food that they do not enjoy tend to eat less. Improving the physical ambience of the eating environment, finding a way for people to eat together and in a more enjoyable setting can be important in maintaining adequate food intake.’

Top tips to encourage the elderly to eat

Sensory appeal:

‘Try and ensure the food offered has sensory appeal, so looks brightly coloured and interesting and has a variety of textures. Even if there is less perceived flavour it may be more interesting to eat. Eating a more mediterranean style diet with lots of fruit and veg is associated with healthy ageing.’ 

Present a varied plate of food:

‘This should prevent sensory-specific satiety and promote greater food intake.’ 

Encourage movement:

‘Even if your loved one can’t walk or mobilise easily, there are plenty of exercises and movements that can be done seated. Exercise and movement, however small, will improve mood, cognition and appetite.’

Dental check:

‘Ensure your loved one has had a recent dental check and that there are no issues with dental hygiene or dentures that might affect how painful it is to chew.’ 


‘See if the ambience and atmosphere of meal-times can be improved. Older people who eat alone in front of the television or have poor ambience tend to eat less. Is there a way mealtimes can become more enjoyable and sociable? People tend to eat more when they are feeling happy, and improving the atmosphere of meal-times in nursing homes has been shown to improve the nutritional status of residents.’


Healthy snacks for weight gain 

With the help of Dr Claire Merrifield, Abbots Care has listed below some snack ideas for the elderly, and their benefits. Abbots Care have also developed a recipe book, for further inspiration.

Food – Sweet ripe fruits

Benefits – Soft and sweet but high in fibre and other health-promoting substances like polyphenols. Try to substitute fruit for cakes and biscuits.

Snack idea – Ripe bananas, which will also be easy for the elderly person to chew.

Food – Eggs or protein shake

Benefits – High energy, high protein snacks that can be really tasty and replace snacks with empty calories like biscuits or cakes. 

Snack idea – For a protein shake, try blitzing in some berries and Greek yoghurt to provide some benefit to the gut or a bowl of full-fat Greek yoghurt with berries if preferred. You can also make some ‘protein balls’ these are easy to make and are usually a combination of nuts, seeds, nut butter, and either fruits or dark chocolate.

Food – Natural yoghurt

Benefits – Contains probiotics, which help maintain gut health. Probiotics have been shown to aid digestion, boost immune function, and even prevent infection, which is crucial through winter.

Snack idea – You could try flavoured natural yoghurts or keep it simple with some granola, fruit, or nuts.

Food – Nuts and seeds

Benefits – Contains antioxidants which may reduce the risk of many diseases, fibre which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, and plant protein which again helps decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Snack idea – You could create your own nut and seeds bar, or if you struggle with chewing, use nut butters instead

Food – Prunes

Benefits – Prunes can help prevent and reduce the loss of bone mass. This means that eating prunes can also lower a person’s risk of developing osteoporosis. They are also iron rich, can help prevent diabetes and aid digestion. 

Snack idea – mix with porridge or yoghurt or simply eat alone for a mid morning snack.