Figuring out what to eat when you have no appetite can feel like an unsolvable puzzle. You may find yourself thinking: “I need to eat, but I have no appetite. Nothing sounds good. What should I do?” Luckily there are some easy options for you when you feel this way.
The most important thing to remember as you’re looking for foods to eat when you have no appetite is that fed is best. Any food that feels manageable is better than no food at all. Your body still has nutritional needs, but meeting them doesn’t necessarily require a full meal.
What to do when you have no appetite
Finding that your appetite isn’t what it used to be is completely normal. The hormones that help your body determine hunger and fullness can be impacted by a wide range of things, including aging.
When you have no appetite for an extended period of time, taking daily supplements can help you meet your nutritional needs, even when you can’t bring yourself to eat full meals or a varied diet.
When figuring out what to eat when you have no appetite, you should factor in protein. Rich protein sources like meats are often difficult to enjoy when you have no appetite, so finding different options is key.
Your body needs protein to stay healthy and heal, even when you don’t have an appetite.
Know when to reach out to your healthcare team
Not having an appetite is normal, but you may still need help to stay healthy. A few of the things to watch out are:
- Losing more than 10 lbs (4.5 kg) without trying
- Persistent nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Dizziness, weakness, or heart problems
- Loss of consciousness
If you experience any of these, reach out to your healthcare team immediately. In some cases, these symptoms can be life-threatening. In other cases, though, your team might explore medical nutrition therapy options with you to help you recover.
Medical nutrition therapy can help you figure out what to eat when you have no appetite and addresses your unique needs and medical situation. It takes advantage of the body’s natural ability to heal itself by providing just the right foods.
Tune into your body’s cues
When you’re trying to figure out what to do when you have no appetite, even realizing you’re hungry is a challenge. Set aside a few quiet moments throughout the day to tune into your body’s cues. Take a few deep breaths. Notice how your whole body feels, not just your stomach.
How hungry do you feel right now? Do you feel shaky, weak, or tired? (These can all be symptoms of extreme hunger.) What foods sound approachable?
As you do this, you’ll start to be familiar with the hunger cues your body is still sending, even if your appetite as you knew it doesn’t return. This will help you figure out both when to eat and what to eat when you have no appetite.
You may not be able to distinguish what your body’s hunger cues are like now. Setting reminders to eat helps ensure you still eat regularly, even when you have no appetite and can’t tell whether you’re hungry.
Set reminders throughout the day, not just at mealtimes. Having multiple reminders allows you to decide whether to eat at that moment, as well as providing the opportunity to eat smaller portions of food without sacrificing your nutrition. You can even label your alarms with your food choices, so you’re never stuck deciding what to eat when you have no appetite.
Focus on snacks
Rather than full meals, try choosing snacks when deciding what to eat when you have no appetite.
Full meals can be overwhelming, both in terms of the types of food in them and the amount of food presented. Snacks are much better foods to eat when you have no appetite since they’re typically simpler to make and eat.
Keep nutrient-dense snacks available throughout the day, and aim for only one full meal a day, eaten whenever your appetite is best. And, of course, if eating a full meal isn’t possible, snacks are much better than no food at all!
Notice which foods you prefer
When it comes to what to eat when you have no appetite, you might not have any foods you still enjoy. If all food sounds unbearable, take time when you are eating to notice which foods you prefer. Which ones seem like less of a hassle, or provide a pleasant sensation?
Some people might enjoy the crunchiness of crackers, while others prefer smoother textures. You might find that you prefer sweet to salty, or the other way around. Noticing these preferences won’t make your appetite return, but it can make eating more bearable.
You might find yourself wondering how to get enough protein, especially if you prefer sweet, carby foods. When choosing what to eat when you have no appetite, find foods that are rich in protein and pair them with a preferred food for the best of both worlds!
When you find yourself thinking, “I need to eat, but I have no appetite”, keep things simple. Overwhelming yourself with options will only make eating seem more intimidating. Instead, opt for foods you can keep on hand and grab any time, or foods that are simple to prepare and packed with nutrients.
10 foods to eat when you have no appetite
When choosing what to eat when you have no appetite, the best thing you can do is keep foods you’re sure to eat on hand. If you’ve never liked yogurt before, chances are good it won’t be helpful to try it now. Stick with foods that are familiar and align with your personal preferences.
1. Soups and stews
Soups and stews make a wonderful meal option for what to eat when you have no appetite. They provide much-needed nutrients in both the broth and any vegetables or grains included, and they’re often familiar and comforting. There’s a reason we associate soup with recovering from an illness!
Soups and stews also represent another key tip for what to do when you have no appetite: simplicity.
Whether you buy cans of soup or make a large batch and can or freeze portions yourself, warming up soup doesn’t require complicated prep or multiple pots and pans. You’re always just a few minutes away from having a full meal ready to go!
2. Toast and crackers
Toast and crackers are both great foods to eat when you have no appetite. They’re easy to nibble if you can’t bring yourself to eat anything at all, and blank canvases for nutrient-rich fruits, cheeses, and spreads to make your snack more substantial.
When you’re choosing what to eat when you have no appetite, choose whole grain breads or crackers if you can. These are going to have more nutrients in them than white, but if whole grain is unfamiliar or sounds too heavy, white is absolutely ok!
3. Nuts and nut butters
Nuts are packed with healthy protein, fats, and calories. They’re easy to carry with you and offer plenty of variety while still staying fairly consistent in texture. Nuts can be found in sweet and savory seasonings, and they’re very widely available.
Butters, like peanut butter, cashew butter, or almond butter, are great options for what to eat when you have no appetite. They’re easily paired with toast or fruit, and you can add them to shakes or smoothies when solid food is out of reach.
When choosing nuts or nut butter, you should know how to read nutritional labels and check them before buying.
For the best nutritional impact, avoid nuts or nut butter with high sugar or sodium levels. You’ll also want to make sure any nut butter is free from high fructose corn syrup, since this doesn’t offer much nutritional value.
Alongside nuts, cheese is an accessible option for what to eat when you have no appetite. Cheese’s taste and texture can vary widely, and you can pair it with all kinds of meals and snacks for a quick protein boost.
Keeping cheese sticks or pre-cubed cheese on hand takes all the effort out of finding something to eat. The combination of protein and fat in cheese makes it a satisfying, nutrient-dense snack, especially when paired with a carbohydrate like fruit or crackers.
5. Fresh and dried fruits
Fresh fruits like berries are easy to snack on throughout the day and can provide a nice change of pace from shelf-stable food. But if you’re wondering what to eat when you have no appetite and you don’t want to risk fresh produce going bad before you eat it, dried fruit is a great backup.
Dried fruit, especially freeze-dried fruit, has many of the same nutrients as fresh fruit, but won’t go bad as quickly. Like with nut butter, you’ll want to check the label for sugar. You’ll also want to make sure to pair dried fruits with a protein source since they tend to be naturally higher in sugar.
High sugar content will typically make you feel worse if you haven’t eaten for a while. Something to keep front of mind when planning for what to do when you have no appetite is keeping quick protein on hand. A protein source can make your blood sugar rise and fall more smoothly, avoiding the spike and crash pattern of eating mostly carbs or foods naturally higher in sugars.
Easy to keep on hand and versatile enough to be paired with just about anything, eggs are high in protein and rich in a large variety of vitamins and minerals. Eggs check just about every box when it comes to what to eat when you have no appetite.
You can prepare eggs to match whatever texture most appeals to you and you can add vegetables, sauces, or spices without turning it into a full meal. A single egg contains about 6 grams of protein, and they’re rich in calcium, iron, and potassium – all essential nutrients.
7. Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are on the hearty side for snacks, but they’re simple and easily available. You can even cook potatoes or sweet potatoes in the microwave. Just pierce the potato with a fork a few times and place it on a plate in your microwave for 4-6 minutes, depending on the size of the potato.
Adding some sour cream or butter to potatoes is an easy way to incorporate a little protein and some healthy fat into your diet, and you can dress your potato with any other toppings you have on hand.
The soft texture of a boiled or baked potato makes it a great option for what to eat when you have no appetite and are dealing with mouth or throat pain.
Yogurt is high in protein, full of gut-healing bacteria, and a great option for what to eat when you have no appetite. The cool, creamy texture is friendly to sore mouths and throats, and those who prefer a crunch can incorporate granola and nuts.
When keeping yogurt on hand as an option for what to eat when you have no appetite, make sure to check the sugar and protein levels. And for an extra boost, you can add fresh fruit to your yogurt or incorporate it into a smoothie.
Smoothies are wonderful nutritional drinks for seniors, especially those who are struggling to eat. You can incorporate multiple sources of protein and nutrients, even in the form of vegetables you or the senior you’re caring for don’t usually like!
Putting a smoothie on your menu of what to eat when you have no appetite is one of the best things you can do when eating is out of reach.
You can make the texture thicker or thinner, based on personal preference, by adding whole milk or fruit juice. And you can reach your daily goal for fruits and veggies in just one or two smoothies.
10. Liquid protein shots and protein shakes
Finally, if you can’t bring yourself to eat anything at all, reach for a protein shake – pre-made or made with high-quality protein powder. These are both ways to reach your nutrient goals by sipping a drink over a longer period of time.
Even if you are able to eat, a liquid protein shot can help you quickly meet your protein needs without incorporating more foods. ProT Gold’s liquid protein shots are made with collagen because the benefits of taking collagen are so far-reaching.
One of these benefits is boosting gut health! Supporting your gut health is important for your ability to absorb nutrients in the foods you do eat, as well as helping you recover.
Choosing what to eat when you have no appetite
When you’re thinking: “I need to eat, but I have no appetite.”, it’s normal to feel frustrated or even defeated. While there are a huge variety of foods to eat when you have no appetite, try not to overwhelm yourself. Eat small portions and keep things simple!
Often, the hardest part of choosing what to eat when you have no appetite is the choosing. Keep something simple and healthy on hand – like a hydrolyzed collagen liquid protein shot – and focus on keeping yourself nourished, even when you don’t feel like eating.