Regional Cancer Center ~ Erie, PA

Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

Nutrition During Cancer Treatment

Advice for the Caregiver while caring for someone with cancer.

Caregivers may find it frustrating and difficult to try to meet the nutritional needs of a family member or friend who may not want to eat at all or whose likes and dislikes may change on a daily basis.

When your loved one does not feel like eating, it is important to be patient and encouraging. Five or six small snacks a day may work better than three large meals. Don't worry if the person's diet is not as balanced as you would like; good days will make up for the not-so-great days. Foods may not taste "normal" to someone going through cancer treatment, so don't be offended if old favorites aren't successful. If the person's tastes seem to have changed, encourage trying new foods. If an old favorite is not appealing, perhaps a new food will be surprisingly well received. Keep the fridge, freezer, and panty stocked with easy-to-prepare convenience foods. Put together a basket or cooler full of snacks your loved one can keep handy to nibble on when the urge strikes.

Helpful Tips

  • Prepare the biggest meal of the day when he or she feels the hungriest – often this may be in the morning.
  • Offer favorite foods any time of the day. It's ok to have a sandwich or bowl of soup for breakfast or have breakfast food any time of day.
  • Casseroles containing pasta, rice and potatoes tend to be well tolerated. Many favorite casserole recipes can be easily altered to increase the amount of calories and protein they contain.
  • Consider adding finally chopped meats, cheese, or hard-boiled eggs to soup, sauces, or casseroles for extra calories and protein.
  • Spicy, greasy, or heavy foods may not be well tolerated on an unsettled stomach.
  • Add sauces, broths, or cheese to foods to enhance flavor and ease swallowing if necessary.
  • Package leftovers in single-serving containers for convenient re-serving later; large servings can seem overwhelming when the appetite is poor.
  • If your loved one is sensitive to smells, prepare meals in a different room from where they'll be eaten. Consider grilling outdoors or using a slow cooker on the back porch or in the garage to keep the aroma of food from permeating the inside of the home. Suggest that the person go to another room or to the opposite side of the house while food is being prepared. Serving foods cool or at room temperature also helps to lessen smells.
  • Your loved one may be hesitant to ask for help. Let the person know you want to assist in preparing meals or snacks, doing the food shopping, or handling other tasks.
  • Drinking is often easier than eating. If the person does not feel like eating but is willing to drink, offer sips of hot cocoa, milk, milkshakes, smoothies, soups, and canned nutritional supplements. Soups can be sipped out of mugs and reheated as needed.

Cancer treatment may reduce the person's ability to fight off infections. If you are preparing meals for someone undergoing treatment, keep these tips in mind:

  • Wash your hands before and after preparing meals.
  • Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs should be thoroughly cooked.
  • To avoid cross contamination, use different cutting boards for meats and vegetables and use a clean knife when cutting different foods.
  • Check expiration dates on packaged food. If you are unsure about an item's freshness or its expiration day, don't use it.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables under cold running water before peeling or cutting, and avoid bruised or damaged produce.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of serving.
  • Discard refrigerated leftovers after 3 days.
  • Avoid foods from buffet lines and self-serve bulk bins.
  • If your loved one is neutropenic or immunocompromised, ask the doctor for specific nutrition guidelines and ask to speak with our dietician.

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