The risk-sensitive foraging theory formulated in terms of the (daily) energy budget rule has been influential in behavioural ecology as well as other disciplines. Predicting risk aversion on positive budgets and risk proneness on negative budgets, however, the budget rule has recently been challenged both empirically and theoretically. In this paper, we critically review these challenges as well as the original derivation of the budget rule and propose a ‘gradual’ budget rule, which is normatively derived from a gradual nature of risk sensitivity and encompasses the conventional budget rule as a special case. The gradual budget rule shows that the conventional budget rule holds when the expected reserve is close enough to a threshold for overnight survival, selection pressure being significant. The gradual view also reveals that the conventional budget rule does not need to hold when the expected reserve is not close enough to the threshold, selection pressure being insignificant. The proposed gradual budget rule better fits the empirical findings including those that used to challenge the conventional budget rule.