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What to Eat With No Appetite: 11 Nourishing Ideas

A woman with no appetite with text that says "What to Eat With No Appetite: 11 Nourishing Ideas"

What to Eat With No Appetite: 11 Nourishing Ideas was written by Laura Ugwuoke and reviewed/edited by Gabi Abreu and Jackie Silver MHSc, RD

Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be personalized medical or nutrition advice. For a plan tailored to your needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or qualified healthcare professional.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links with which I may earn a small commission but at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help bloggers like me to provide you with free content. All opinions expressed here are genuine. 

Discover easy and nourishing food ideas for days when you don’t know what to eat with no appetite. Explore 11 delicious sensory-friendly recipes, from smoothies to juices and muffins. Uncover the intersection of neurodiversity and nutrition, exploring additional factors that can lead to a low appetite. Get practical tips for eating with no appetite and find support in creating a plan that suits your needs. If you’re unsure what to eat when your appetite is low, this blog has you covered with valuable insights and mouth-watering options!

Last updated: March 13, 2024

What to Eat with No Appetite

We’ve all had those days when the grumble in our stomach seems to have taken a hiatus, and mealtimes transform from a delightful experience to an overwhelming task. Enter the realm of a low appetite, prompting the common question: what to eat when you have no appetite?

This is a question all of us, including neurodivergent folks, find ourselves asking at some point or the other. Picture this: certain aromas turn your stomach, and some textures feel like a mouthful of sandpaper, creating the perfect conditions for a resounding “I’m not hungry.” 

A man with a beard sitting at the table with no appetite - what to eat with no appetite

There are many factors that could lead to a lack of appetite in neurodivergent people. From a side effect from stimulant medications for ADHD to low interoceptive awareness in autism and ADHD, and more.

This post will explore 11 simple and nourishing food ideas designed to make mealtime a bit more manageable on those challenging days when you have no appetite and you’re unsure what to eat.

Please note that while it is important to eat nutritious foods, it is ALWAYS better to eat SOMETHING rather than NOTHING, even if what you’re eating is not the most nutritionally dense option. Eating nothing, especially with a low appetite, is more likely to contribute to fatigue and brain fog. Eating something will help with this.

A graphic with the quote "It's ALWAYS better to eat SOMETHING rather than NOTHING"

Understanding Loss of Appetite in Neurodivergent Individuals 

Neurodivergent folks may find that their experience of poor appetite may show up differently, therefore it is important to include neurodivergent perspectives when considering what to eat with no appetite.

Potential reasons for appetite loss include: 

1. Food Aversions 

Neurodivergent folks might have aversions to certain tastes, smells, or textures of food. Attempting to consume these foods that trigger discomfort can lead to a loss of appetite. To avoid this, foods that trigger an aversion can be introduced as part of another food like in a smoothie. You can also try changing the texture of the food, for example; grilling food, like sweet potatoes, instead of boiling.

A glass of strawberry smoothie - what to eat with no appetite

If you’re having a difficult day with a particularly low appetite, it is likely best to avoid your food aversions and stick to your safe foods. Remember that it is always better to eat something rather than nothing. 

2. Digestive Issues 

Neurodivergent individuals, especially autistic folks, are more likely to experience gastrointestinal issues compared to neurotypical folks. Digestive discomfort can certainly impact appetite.  For example, if you’re struggling with constipation, abdominal pain and food sensitivities, you are much less likely to want to eat and may not know what to eat with no appetite out of fear of worsening your digestive symptoms.  Taking this into account, choosing food options that are gentle on the digestive system could help mitigate this issue, but it is important to seek medical support first.

3. Medication Side Effects

Some neurodivergent folks, particularly those with ADHD, may be prescribed stimulant medications which could decrease appetite as a side effect. This is a challenge that comes up in my private practice all the time. Many of my clients struggle with what to eat with no appetite from their ADHD medications. They are more likely to feel tired throughout the day if they are not eating. 

Our food list below may be helpful for you, as well as utilizing mechanical eating. Many of my clients find their appetite starts to return once they are eating consistent meals and snacks throughout the day. 

A graphic showing the cycle of what happens when you're on ADHD meds

4. Anxiety and Depression

Some people might experience anxiety around food which could manifest as stress due to specific types of foods, change in meal routines, or social aspects of eating. Experiencing stress can lead to a reduction in appetite, however, getting support and addressing your anxiety is essential, and could improve your appetite regulation. 

Further, when you feel anxious, your body goes through emotional and psychological changes to help you cope with the anxiety. These changes can impact your gastrointestinal tract and reduce your appetite. 

Additionally, depression is linked with both an increased and decreased appetite. If you have low appetite when going through a depressive episode, mechanical eating and finding safe foods may help you. 

A graphic that shows the causes of loss of appetite in neurodivergent individuals

What to Eat with No Appetite: 11 Nourishing Food Ideas 

When exploring what to eat with no appetite, it is important to look for foods that feel safe, are easy to make, and sensory-friendly. It’s a bonus if they are also nutritious but remember it’s always better to eat something than nothing. 

Here are some ideas for food you can eat when your appetite is low:

1. Smoothies: Smoothies are a quick and easy way to meet your nutritional needs. You can add a variety of fruits and vegetables to create a nutritious drink with minimal impact on taste. You can easily make a complete, balanced meal from a smoothie by incorporating protein, healthy fats, and carbs (such as oats).  Smoothies are preferable because no chewing is required, reducing the risk of triggering sensory discomfort. Check out my Smoothies Made Simple ebook, featuring 30 delicious recipes to make your smoothie experience even more convenient and accessible!

2. Meal Replacement Drinks or Oral Nutrition Supplements: Meal replacement drinks or oral nutrition supplements (ONS) provide a hassle-free option for those days when eating feels like a challenge or chore. These are fortified with protein, carbohdyrates, and fats to make up a nutritionally complete meal. They also contain vitamins and minerals that you need to function.  Many people find it easier to consume liquids than solids when appetite is low making ONS a great option.

Here are some brands we recommend: Sperri, Orgain, Ensure, or Boost.

A glass of chocolate flavoured meal supplement

3. Juicing: Making juice is another way to work around sensory sensitivities. Juicing can extract nutrient content from foods like fruits and vegetables in a lighter, more palatable form. This might be more appealing when you have no appetite. Please note that juices are not nutritionally complete meals, but are definitely better to consume than nothing at all.

4. Soups: Soups are an easy way to get your nutrients in liquid form, making them a safe option for what to eat with no appetite. Soups are versatile and can be made to varying degrees of smoothness or thickness, from a brothy soup to a thick, hearty soup or a thick, blended soup. The variety in texture and flavors can also cater to different sensory preferences. Soups are also a great way to consume a nutritionally balanced meal because you can add veggies, carbs (such as rice or barley), and protein (such as chickpeas, lentils, tofu, fish, or chicken) to them.

This One-Pot Lemon Chickpea Orzo Soup is so simple to make and you can freeze it for about 1-2 months to keep on hand for those days when appetite is low. 

5. Oatmeal: Oatmeal can be customized with different fruits and nuts to create a flavorful and comforting dish for days when you have no appetite. You can make your oatmeal sweet or savory to your preference, making it the perfect easy meal for when you don’t know what to eat. Check out this protein overnight oats recipe when you have a low appetite.

A bowl of oatmeal with banana slices and nuts - what to eat with no appetite

6. Convenience Foods: Prepackaged foods like yogurt cups, shakes, trail mixes, protein bars, crackers, and granola bars can provide a variety of options on days when your appetite is low. This can provide you with an option to meet your nutrient needs without requiring a lot of mental effort.

7. Puddings: Puddings can be a highly nutritious option to reach for when you feel overwhelmed and out of ideas of what to eat with no appetite. The smooth and comforting texture might help bypass feelings of sensitivity, allowing you to get some food in. They can also be customized nutritionally and in terms of texture and thickness to suit your preferences. Check out this chocolate tofu pudding recipe. You can also purchase Boost pudding cups which is fortified with protein, vitamins and minerals. 

8. Toast with Toppings: Toast can be a satisfactory base, which you can personalize with a  variety of toppings to  suit your nutritional needs. You can use toppings like avocado, nut butter, cottage cheese, or fruits to create a delicious and sensory-friendly treat. Many people find toast and peanut butter to be a safe option when appetite is low.

A plate of toast with strawberries and blueberries - what to eat with no appetite

9. Pasta Dishes: Pasta can be a fun and easy way to incorporate a variety of vegetables and proteins. With different shapes and textures to choose from, pasta dishes can be made in a variety of sauces customized to suit your taste preferences.

10. Muffins: The nutritional content of muffins can be customized to suit your nutritional needs and sensory preferences. Whether homemade or store-bought, muffins offer a versatile and uncomplicated food option for days when your appetite is low.

11. Meal delivery kits or store bought frozen meals: We’re lucky to be living in an era where there are a variety of meal delivery kit options at our disposal. Embracing meal delivery kits provides convenience with straightforward ingredients and recipes, and in some cases, pre-made meals. This option can alleviate the mental fatigue of meal planning, reducing potential stress around food and increasing your choice of easy and quick meals available to eat when your appetite is low. Frozen meals are another easy option for when appetite is low. 

A graphic listing what to eat with no appetite - 11 nourishing food ideas

9 Simple Tips for What to Eat with No Appetite

1. Instead of having three large meals, which might feel overwhelming, consider breaking your meals into smaller portions or snacks and eating every few hours throughout the day.It may be easier to eat small amounts 5-6 times per day, as an example, than 3 large meals and 1-2 snacks.

2. Make eating more enjoyable by creating a sensory-friendly space for meals to decrease the chance of sensory repulsion. You can do this by minimizing loud distracting noise during meals, and keeping the dining area clutter free during meals.

3. Engaging in light physical activity before a meal can help stimulate hunger; consider activities such as walking or stretching.

4. On days when your appetite is low, opt for high-energy, high-protein meals. Keep convenient options handy, such as oral nutrition supplement drinks, protein bars, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, cheese, canned fish, or nuts handy.

Hard boiled eggs - what to eat with no appetite

5. Eat whatever type of meal you want at any time. Don’t save your omelet just for breakfast; if you enjoy breakfast foods, allow yourself to have them at any time of the day. Who says you can’t have breakfast for dinner?!

6. Remember to be kind to yourself and understand that your body may have different needs at different times. This is a natural part of the flow of life. Our appetite changes and some days will be better than others.

7. Having someone to eat with can be another way to help you eat more  meals when you have no appetite.

8. Practicing mechanical eating, by creating an eating schedule, can be a powerful tool to stay on track with eating. This reduces the mental fatigue of deciding when and what to eat, allowing you to maintain your nutrition even when experiencing a low appetite.

9. Finally, if you are struggling with your appetite, seek professional help from a Registered Dietitian or qualified medical professional experienced in working with neurodivergent individuals to help you navigate your food options.

A graphic listing 9 simple tips for what to eat with no appetite

Conclusion

There you have it! Not knowing what to eat with no appetite can be a struggle for everyone. This challenge can show up in diverse ways for neurodivergent individuals, so it is important to take a personalized approach when creating plans for what to eat with no appetite. 

Strategies such as introducing sensory triggering foods in different forms, incorporating light physical exercise, recognizing medication side effects, and addressing anxiety-related stress can help improve your appetite regulation.

Nutritional health plays an important role in the overall well-being of everyone, so maintaining a mindful approach to nutrition even during periods of low appetite is crucial. 

Finally, and most importantly, remember to be kind and gentle with yourself even when your appetite decides to take a hike! And don’t hesitate to reach out to a health care professional if you need extra help navigating your eating habits.

What are your go-to foods when your appetite is low? Let us know in the comments below! 

Looking for more evidence-based blog posts? Check out:

Laura Ugwuoke is wearing a dark brown and navy striped sweater and standing in front of a beige wall

About Laura

Meet Laura Ugwuoke, a wellness advocate with a deep-rooted passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle. Armed with a BSc in Nutrition from UBC and actively working towards a degree in Dietetics and Nutrition, Laura possesses a wealth of knowledge to guide individuals on their path to wellness. Embracing the belief that wellness should be inclusive and available to all, Laura is committed to breaking down barriers and making healthy choices accessible.  Beyond the world of nutrition, you’ll often find Laura unwinding and enjoying the latest binge-worthy series on Netflix, finding joy in a well-deserved moment of relaxation.

A headshot of Gabi Abreu

About Gabi

Gabi Abreu, BSc, is a Nutrition & Dietetics graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University and the Blog & Social Media Manager at Jackie Silver Nutrition. She is also the founder of the Working Woman’s Health Collection. WWHC was created with the purpose of inspiring women to achieve a healthy relationship with food, while taking into consideration the busy lifestyles that we live today. Beyond her professional pursuits, she loves experimenting with new recipes, trying new workout classes, and indulging her love for adventure through travel!

About Jackie

Jackie is a Registered Dietitian whose mission is to empower and support the neurodivergent and physically disabled communities through nutrition. Jackie runs a virtual private practice and blog which has simple recipes and health information tailored to these communities. She loves cooking, exercising, traveling, journaling, and spending time with family and friends.

Check out her full bio here →

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