Food first as a treatment for under-nutrition

Please note, this page is printable by selecting the normal print options on your computer.

This information leaflet is designed to help you if you have:

  • Lost weight or are losing weight
  • A poor appetite
  • Problems gaining weight

Helpful hints to help improve your appetite

  • Eat your meal slowly, take time to relax and enjoy your food or drink.
  • A walk outside in the fresh air before meals can often improve appetite.
  • Make the most of days when you are feeling hungry, try to include your favourite foods.
  • Alcohol in small amounts can help stimulate your appetite, if permitted by your doctor.
  • Smoking tends to reduce your appetite – cutting back or preferably quitting will help to improve your appetite and health in general.
  • If cooking is difficult or makes you tired, convenience foods can be useful.

Hints and tips to help you put on weight

  • Always have breakfast – you will find you will eat better for the rest of the day.
  • Try eating little and often. Aim for 3 small meals and 2-3 snacks and/or milky drinks.
  • Drink towards the end of your meal or after so that you do not spoil your appetite. Drink plenty at other times, aim for 6-8 cups of fluid a day.
  • Use one pint of full cream milk daily, by itself or in drinks or puddings (if you are lactose intolerant or vegan try soya milk or rice milk instead of cows’ or goats’ milk).
  • Have a pudding once or twice a day e.g. fruit pie and ice cream, sponge with custard or cream, slice of cake, ready prepared desserts – milk puddings. Why not have one as a snack?

Nourishing Snack Suggestions
Snacking between meals is very helpful, if you have a small appetite, as it helps increase your overall intake of food and nutrients. Try and eat at least two ‘between meals’ snacks from the following list of snack ideas.

Very high calorie snacks – similar to 1 supplement drink

  • Two small pieces (match box size) of cheese and an apple or bunch of grapes
  • Medium Cornish pasty
  • Hummus and pita bread
  • Bowl of cereal and fortified milk
  • Slice of fruit cake and cheese
  • Three medium size samosas
  • Croissant with cheese

High calorie snacks – similar to ½ – 1 supplement drink

  • 2 crackers or digestive biscuits with butter and cheese
  • 1 glass (200mls) of milk or milk substitute and 2 digestive biscuits
  • Chelsea bun or croissant with butter/jam
  • Peanut butter (and jam) sandwich (2 slices of bread)
  • Mixed nuts (25g small bag)
  • 2 crumpets or small malt loaf topped with butter
  • Medium sausage roll or 2 mini pork pies or slice of quiche
  • Seasoned dripping olive oil and ciabatta bread
  • 2 small pakora or Bhagia (vegetable)

Moderate calorie snacks – similar to ½ supplement drinks

  • 50g milk chocolate bar
  • Spring roll (meat)
  • ½ jam doughnut or scone with butter/cream and jam
  • 2 chocolate digestive biscuits or 3 all butter shortbread fingers
  • 1 Mince pie
  • Packet of crisps (40g bag)
  • Scotch pancake and honey
  • Slice of toast with butter

Nourishing Drinks
Nourishing drinks provide you with extra energy and calories as well as fluid to keep you hydrated. It is important you have at least 6-8 drinks every day. If you are undernourished choose at least 2 drinks from the high calorie list, or 4 from the moderate calorie drinks per day as part of your fluid intake.

High calorie drinks

  • Milkshake
  • Malted drink, e.g. Horlicks®, Ovaltine®
  • Hot chocolate (all milk)
  • Milk (glass of whole/full cream)
  • Crusha
  • Nesquik
  • Milky coffee
  • Milky tea
  • Milky drink with double cream
  • Complan (Which can be bought from the chemists)
  • Fruit smoothie (blend fruit with ice cream, milk and yogurt)
  • ½ pint of cider*

Moderate calorie drinks

  • Milk (glass of semi skimmed or ½ pint of skimmed)
  • Larger or beer (small glass)*
  • Cola/Lemonade
  • Soya milk, plain or rice milk
  • Sherry (small glass)*
  • Fruit juice
  • Ice cream soda (made by adding ice cream to a fizzy drinks)

*Check with your Doctor before taking any alcohol

Ways to further enrich your diet

  • Add grated cheese, milk powder, butter/margarine, or cream to soups, sauces, mashed potatoes.
  • Add extra butter or margarine to vegetables, potatoes, scrambled egg and bread.
  • Add extra sugar / honey to hot milk, tea, coffee, herbal tea, breakfast cereal.
  • Add sugar, honey, peanut butter or jam to milk pudding, breakfast cereal, yoghurt.

Enriched Milk
Add four tablespoons of dried milk to a pint of whole milk to double to calorie and protein content, this allows you to consume the same volume of milk but more nourishment.

Use enriched milk:

  • To make jelly, by dissolving the jelly in half the recommended water and once it has cooled a little use the fortified milk to make the jelly up to the right amount.
  • To make up a cuppa soup, make the fortified milk as above, follow the directions on the packet but substitute the hot water for fortified milk.
  • In puddings, sauces, custards, jelly, cuppa soup, and breakfast cereal.

If your food intake or weight has not improved within a maximum of four weeks, contact your GP, nurse or dietitian.