Nourishing Your Loved One Through Cancer Treatment

By: Renown Wellness Team

April 22, 2024

Mom and daughter in kitchen preparing a healthy breakfast

Eating healthy is a daily challenge for many, but for those with cancer, it is an even harder struggle. A cancer diagnosis affects not only those diagnosed but family members and friends, too. One key area of concern is making sure your loved one stays well by eating healthy food every day.

Here are some vital cancer nutrition tips from Jessica Blauenstein, a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and Registered Dietitian at Renown Health.

Help to Prepare Meals and Snacks for Daily Cancer Nutrition

Make it grab and go. Easy-to-make meals help reduce the burden of having to cook and prepare food. Having easy to grab snacks on the counter or in the fridge can help ensure your loved one has access to those nutrients when needed.

Sit outside of the kitchen.
This allows your loved one to avoid cooking smells which can make them feel sick as a side effect of cancer treatments. Also try serving them cold foods such as sandwiches, cheese and crackers, or shakes which have a mild scent.

Try drinkable meals. Some people with cancer find it easier to sip their calories over the course of 30 minutes to an hour. Consider smoothies or supplemental shakes such as Ensure Complete, Fairlife shakes, Orgain shakes, or Boost Plus to name a few. A great foundation for a smoothie is a protein source (Greek yogurt, protein powder, nut butters or milk) with a carbohydrate (fruits, juice or berries). Add other ingredients as desired, such as spinach, kale, and ground flaxseed or chia seeds to give it more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Snack Ideas for Those Undergoing Cancer Treatment

The following ideas are both quick and easy to make for your loved one.
  • Chicken or tuna salad with whole grain crackers or as a sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Greek yogurt mixed with cereal, fruit and/or nuts
  • Cottage cheese with banana, cinnamon and/or peanut butter
  • Favorite fruit with 100% natural peanut or almond butter spread - Try peanut butter with bananas, apples, or even celery
  • Their favorite veggies dipped in a salad dressing of your choice - For example, carrots with hummus, tahini, or ranch dressing
  • Cheese and whole grain crackers - Add tomato slices with a small amount of avocado, and a dash of oregano on top for more flavor
  • Eggs scrambled with cheese, vegetables and/or salsa
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread
  • A baked sweet potato with some favorite toppings
  • Hard boiled eggs and/or egg salad with whole grain crackers, or as a sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Oatmeal or cream of wheat prepared with milk, fruit and/or nuts

Sometimes your loved one may not feel like eating or refuse to eat. If treatment side effects are impacting your loved one’s ability to eat, please visit the websites below containing recipes tailored to treat side effects.

Of course, you may also consult a registered dietitian and/or the patients care team, if you have more cancer nutrition concerns.

No Appetite? Assisting with Cancer Taste Changes

Taste changes are common during cancer treatment. Patients experiencing these changes may not feel like eating, which can negatively impact their nutrition. Help your loved one overcome taste changes with these cancer nutrition strategies:
  • Metallic or bitter taste in food - add something sweet such as maple syrup, honey or jelly. You may also try adding fat, such as a nut butter, avocado or regular butter. Pickles or vinegar could help with this too.
  • A taste like cardboard - try adding salt and extra flavor to foods with seasonings and spices. Some examples are onion, garlic, chili powder, basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, barbecue sauce, mustard, ketchup, or mint. Lemon juice, citrus, vinegar, or pickles may also help with this as well
  • Food tastes too sweet - try adding six drops of lemon or lime juice. Add small amounts until the sweetness is gone.
  • Very salty taste - try adding ¼ teaspoon of lemon juice.
  • Try plastic utensils instead of metal, especially if your loved one is struggling with foods tasting metallic.
  • Dipping small bites of food into either lemon juice or vinegar can have a “palate cleansing” feel and may improve taste perception. This helps avoid getting tired of the flavor after a few bites. Try marinating food or meats in sweet fruit juices, salad dressings, or sweet-and-sour sauce. Other “palate cleansing” foods are lime juice, orange juice, mangos, lemongrass, parsley, cilantro, mint, ginger, basil, and pickled foods.
  • Use aroma to make foods appealing, avoiding any smells that may cause nausea. In particular, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cumin, ginger, and black pepper can add an aromatic flavor. Also include herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme.
  • Think texture. Consider trying wafers, crunchy nut butters, carrots, celery, cucumbers, chips, rice crispies, corn flakes, crackers, panko crumbs, nuts, or seeds if you are able to chew and swallow them safely.
  • Remember that patience with your loved one's changing appetite and tastes can be the strongest form of support you can provide.

Nutrition Tips for Cancer Survivorship and Beyond

  • If eating large meals is difficult for your loved one, encourage them to snack throughout the day. Aim for 4-6 snacks or small meals per day.
  • Focus on consuming 2-3 protein-rich foods each day such as lean animal meats, fish, eggs, soy or a protein supplement with 20-30 grams of protein per serving.
  • Eat a variety of brightly colored fruits and veggies. Aim to make half of each meal fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat less than 18 oz. (cooked weight) of red meat per week.
  • Limit cold cuts, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs.
  • Avoid excess salt and saturated fats.
  • Cut back on simple carbs. (i.e. desserts, candies, white bread/pastas, french fries, packaged foods, chips)
  • Drink in moderation- if at all- one drink per day for women, two for men.
  • Get enough vitamin D (through diet and/or supplement)
  • Avoid tobacco of any kind.
  • Keep a healthy weight and stay up on exercise.

Other Ways to Help a Loved One with Cancer

Assist with Chores. Allow your loved one to relax as you help take care of chores around the house, such as cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping. This may reduce overall stress and can be helpful for those that get tired after their treatments. Physical activity can still be beneficial, so be sure to do an activity together that they enjoy and is approved by their doctor.

Be Patient. It can be very difficult to see a loved one go through cancer treatment. Remember to be patient with your loved one. There may be things we want them to do or eat that we know would be good for them, however, meet your loved one with grace and understanding. It is ultimately their decision on what to do, just be there to support and assist them as they go through this challenging time.

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