Abstract Developing rats were either malnourished or adequately nourished during the prenatal period by feeding their dams diets of 6% (low) or 25% (adequate) casein content 5 weeks prior to mating and throughout pregnancy. All pups received adequate nutrition from the day of birth onwards. In Experiment 1, male offspring aged 125 days were tested in a food-rewarded variable interval 2-min (VI 2′) operant paradigm under three levels of body weight reduction (90%, 85% and 80% of their ad lib feeding weight). Previously malnourished rats showed significantly higher response rates than well-nourished controls at the 90% and 85% levels but not at the 80% level. In Experiment 2, behaviorally naive male littermates aged 225 days were tested in a saccharin-solution-rewarded VI 2′ operant task. The rate of receipt of reward within each daily session was found to differ in the two nutritional groups. Previously malnourished rats maintained a stable rate of reward throughout the session while the controls showed a rapid decline over the first 15–20 min. The higher rate of reward late in the session in Experiment 2 and the elevated response rate in the first two phases of Experiment 1 suggests that prenatal protein malnutrition increases subsequent responsiveness to reward.