Eating Well with a Small Appetite

This page is for those who have a small appetite, need to gain weight, or prevent further weight loss. It contains suggestions on how to boost your energy and protein intake without necessarily having to eat more food.

Some of the advice may go against what is considered as ‘healthy eating’. It is unlikely to be detrimental to your health and avoiding malnutrition is a higher priority, especially if you are unwell. You may return to your healthy diet once your appetite has returned.

Eating well is important to maintain your health. Food contains energy and protein, but also essential vitamins and minerals. Eating well can reduce your risk of infections, improve wound healing, muscle strength, energy levels, reduce length of hospital stay and reduces unintentional weight loss.

Tips to help improve your appetite

  • Eating little and often can help to improve a reduced appetite. Try and include three small meals and 2-3 nourishing snacks per day. You can find some suggestions on pages 3-4.
  • Serve a smaller portion of your meal to prevent feeling overwhelmed, you can always go back for more.
  • Ensure to utilise times of the day when your appetite is best, try and eat more in this period. 
  • Smoking, as well as being bad for your health, can also supress your appetite. If you smoke, try not to smoke in the half-hour before your meal.
  • Try not to fill up on drinks shortly before or during meals.
  • Fresh air can often stimulate your appetite. If possible, go for a brief walk or go outside for a while before eating. Eating in a well-ventilated room can also help.
  • If you’re too tired to cook, use ready-made oven/ microwave foods or freeze extra portions of meals when cooking and use another day.
  • There are a variety of ways that you can purchase meals such as Meals-on-Wheels, ready meal delivery services (such as Wiltshire Farm Foods or Oakhouse Foods), lunch clubs or day centres. Consider what would be convenient for you.

Tips for fortifying your foods

Extra calories and protein can be added to normal foods to increase the nutritional content, without increasing the portion size. This is known as food fortification. This means that each mouthful you have is more nourishing.

Ideas to increase calorie intake

100-150 calorie boosters

  • 1 tbsp. of peanut butter or chocolate spread to a milkshake, spread on biscuits/ toast
  • 2 teaspoons of jam or honey to porridge or puddings
  • 2 tbsp. of double cream, crème fraiche or ice cream to puddings/ drinks
  • 2 tbsp condensed milk to puddings/ drinks
  • 1 tbsp. oil/ butter/ margarine to soups
  • 2 tbsp. humous spread on toast/ pitta/ crackers
  • ½ avocado spread on toast
  • Add 1 tbsp. red or green pesto to pasta or mashed potato
  • Add 2 teaspoons of sugar to hot drinks/ cereal/ puddings

150-250 calorie boosters

  • Stir in 1 tablespoon of clotted cream to a dessert
  • Mix 1 heaped tablespoon of full fat mayonnaise into sandwich fillings
  • Add 2 tablespoons of full fat cream cheese to potatoes, pasta or in your sandwich

Foods high in protein play an important role in your body by keeping muscles strong, repairing injuries such as wounds and broken bones and supporting your immune system to fight infections.

Ideas of increasing protein intake

5-15g protein boosters

  • 1 medium egg (50g) added to toast
  • Grated cheese (40g) melted into soups, sauces, mashed potato
  • 1 pot (125g) yogurt to puddings/ drinks
  • 1 heaped tbsp. (13g) skimmed milk powder added to milk
  • 1 small can baked beans (150g) on toast
  • 1 tbsp. peanut butter spread on biscuits/ toast
  • 1 tbsp. lentils added to curry/ Bolognese sauce
  • 2 rashers of bacon
  • 100g Quorn or mince/ sausage

Nourishing snack ideas

Ideas of nourishing snacks you can include between meals to increase your calorie and protein intake:

Savoury snacks

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Crisps or bread with dips like humous, tzatziki, baba ghanoush, guacamole
  • Pretzels
  • Bombay mix
  • Sausage rolls
  • Scotch eggs
  • Mini quiche
  • Spring rolls
  • Plantain crisps
  • Falafel
  • Sushi
  • Pakora
  • Samosa
  • Chapati / Roti
  • Olives & antipasti

Sweet snacks

  • Biscuits e.g., shortbread, digestive, ginger, cream/jam filled biscuits, chocolate covered
  • Cake and pastries e.g., sponge cake, cream cake, doughnuts, jam tarts, iced buns, egg custard tart
  • Small packet of sweets e.g., boiled, chewy, jelly, mints marshmallows
  • Full fat yogurt
  • Full fat mousse
  • Waffles
  • Pancakes
  • A few squares of chocolate
  • Hot cross bun
  • Rice Pudding
  • Custard
  • Puff-puff
  • Chin-chin
  • Drozdzowka
  • Baklava
  • Barfi

Nourishing drink ideas

Nourishing drinks can be a good way to support your nutritional intake in addition to the foods you eat. It is recommended you drink about 8 cups of fluids per day (1.5-2 litres). All liquids count including tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, water fruit juice etc.

Ideas of nourishing snacks you can include between meals to increase your calorie and protein intake

  • Aim for 1 pint of fortified full fat milk per day. To fortify your milk, add 4 tablespoons of skimmed milk powder to 1 pint of milk. If you don’t drink cow’s milk, add 4 tablespoons of soya powder to 1 pint of plant-based milk of choice/ lactose-free milk.
  • Use your fortified milk throughout the day to add to cereals/ sauces or to make up hot milky drinks like coffee, hot chocolate, and milkshakes.
  • Choose full fat and full sugar drinks.
  • There are ready-made milkshakes such as Yazoo, Frijj, Mars, Galaxy or you can make your own (see recipe below).
  • Over the counter nutritional supplement drinks (most often powdered) are available from most pharmacies and supermarkets, such as Complan, Meritene.

Super Soup

1 packet of cup-a-soup/ powdered soup

2 tablespoons of double cream or grated cheese

200ml warmed fortified milk

Mix together and serve warm

Vanilla Vegan shake

½ medium banana

25g cashew nuts

2/3 cup (180ml) soya milk/ plant-based milk of choice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2tbsp (20g) pea protein

Blend until smooth (using hand-whisk/blender)


½ pint (200ml) fortified milk

2 scoops (2oz/ 60g) ice cream

2 heaped tbsp. milkshake powder of choice

Blend until smooth (using hand-whisk/ blender/ fork)

You can also add full-fat yogurt, honey, peanut butter.

Fruit Smoothie

1 ripe banana, handful of frozen berries or ½ tin (200g) of peaches

1 scoop of ice cream or 3tbsp Greek yogurt/ dairy free alternative

1 teaspoon of sugar

200ml fortified milk/ tinned coconut milk/ soya milk. Blend until smooth (using hand-whisk/blender)

Individual Goals

(Print the page and use the space below as a jotter to set and monitor your individual goals. Keep it somewhere safe - such as on the fridge door!)