Ministers have launched what they are calling a "groundbreaking" drive to tackle malnutrition among hospital and care home patients in England.
A third of patients are malnourished
It calls for better training for NHS and social care providers, and for patients to be regularly weighed to track whether they eat properly.
But a patients' group said the plans were doomed to failure.
Patient Concern said it failed to instil a culture of accountability and was likely to be just "words on paper".
Research has shown that about a third of hospital and care home patients are malnourished.
In response, the government has developed the plan with 25 other organisations, including regulators, nurses and charities Help the Aged and Age Concern.
A training programme on nutritional care and assistance with eating will be available to all NHS and social care staff from May 2008.
And from September 2008, nutrition will become a key part of nurse training.
A tougher inspection regime is also to be introduced with regulators being told nutrition and dignity should be central to ratings.
The Department of Health is also pledging to develop a good practice guide.
Ministers also unveiled a plan for nutritional screening, which will ask care homes and hospitals to weigh patients when they are admitted and follow that up with weekly checks.
But the training and screening plans will not be mandatory, nor will there be extra money to help improve care.
Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: "Too often older people and their relatives tell us of experiences in hospitals and care homes where the food is poor or no help is provided to help people eat and drink properly.
"Weight loss is sometimes wrongly explained away as being due to illness when in reality it is because of a failure to put nutrition at the heart of people's care.
"This neglect and poor practice cannot be tolerated."
He said good nutrition should be viewed as important as access to the right medication.
And he added staff who failed to ensure proper care could face disciplinary action.
Gordon Lishman, from Age Concern, who has agreed to chair a board to ensure the action plan is followed, said he would not have agreed to the role if he did not think "the initiative was robust enough to deliver results".
"We now have a great opportunity to improve older people's lives dramatically at a time when they are at their most vulnerable," he said.
Paul Cann, director of policy at Help the Aged, said the action plan was "good news".
"It shows the government is committed to nutrition for the most vulnerable," he said.
"But it is sad to think that there still needs to be this emphasis on making improvements in what should be a basic level of care and support for hospital patients."
But Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: "This government is good at unveiling plans and launching initiatives but pretty hopeless at making them work.
"Unless a named person is made responsible for the working of weigh-ins and other systems, and there are effective sanctions if they don't produce results, this will just be worthy words on paper.
"Patients are only too well aware that no one among the health providers is held accountable when things go wrong - whether it is in clinical care, hygiene or nutrition. Everyone is responsible so no one is responsible."