The Caregiver’s Kitchen: Cooking for a Person with Cancer

Caring for a person with cancer means meeting their most basic needs, and there’s no need more basic than food. Providing nutritious and appealing food choices for someone you love is an important way to help them get and stay well.

So what’s the best way to handle cooking for someone who may feel tired or nauseous, or who may have trouble eating due to the side effects of treatment? The tips below can help you get a person with cancer the calories and nutrients they need in a way that works for both of you.

Make it easy to eat

This means not only preparing things you know the person likes, but preparing them in ways that make these foods easy to swallow and digest.

For example, casseroles made with pasta, rice, and potatoes are comfort foods that are also easy on the stomach and on the palate. Adding sauces, broth, or cheese can sometimes make dishes more appealing and easier to swallow. If the person that you are caring for has a sore mouth or throat, you may want to avoid coarse, dry, or acidic foods. Avoid spicy or greasy foods that might irritate an upset stomach.

Know that meal times might be meaningless

Work with your loved one to see if a non-traditional eating schedule might help them eat more.

Sometimes five or six smaller meals or heavy snacks will work better than three large meals. Sometimes breakfast foods, such as scrambled eggs or cereal, may be the most appealing choice for lunch or dinner. Plan to serve the biggest meal when the person is most hungry, regardless of the time of day. Often times, this may be first thing in the morning.

Bump up the calories and protein

If a person isn’t eating much or is losing weight during treatment, it’s important to make the foods they do eat count. Increase the amount of protein and calories in what you serve by adding chopped meat, hard-boiled eggs, or dairy products such as cheese, milk, or cream into dishes they already enjoy.

Snacks can be a great way to increase calories and protein, too, so offer options such as cheese sticks, puddings, and protein bars or shakes in between meal times.

Make food safety a priority

Some people with cancer or who are undergoing cancer treatment may not be able to fight off infections or illness as well as people with healthy immune systems. This means that it’s especially important to follow some basic rules of food safety.

Avoid contaminating food with harmful microbes by washing your hands before and after preparing meals, washing all fruits and vegetables, and using a clean knife and cutting board when cutting different foods. Cook foods such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs thoroughly to cut down on the risk of food-borne illness. Make sure to check expiration dates and throw away food that might be old or spoiled.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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