​​​​​​By Christy Brissette MSc RD, Registered Dietitian, ELLICSR Kitchen; Clinical Dietitian, Head & Neck Survivorship Program, Princess Margaret

Adapted from article published on the ELLICSR Blog, September 9, 2014 »

Whether you are a cancer survivor's main caregiver or a friend looking to offer some help, cooking healthy meals is a great way to support someone who is in cancer treatment or recovery. Keeping the person you care for well-nourished can help improve their strength and well-being, help them fight off infection and prevent malnutrition.​

Here are some tips to help.​


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​​​ Save Time

The next time you cook, try to prepare larger batches of meals and then freeze individual portions in glass containers. When you or your loved one are ready to eat, take one of the containers out of the freezer and microwave or place in an oven-safe dish and heat through.

Stocking your freezer with pre-made meals means you will have more nutritious meals that are ready to go and are less expensive than store-bought versions.

Collect recipes that freeze well. Some meal ideas include meat or vegetarian chili, stews, casseroles, soups, pasta sauce, and meatballs. Remember to label the your food with the date that you freeze it.

​​​ Large Appetites or Wanting to Avoid Gaining Weight

Having a large appetite as a result of cancer treatments or medications can be stressful for your loved one. Be sure that you and your loved one eat 3 balanced meals a day. Skipping meals will increase the intensity of hunger levels later on, which can often lead to overeating. Try preparing meals that are half vegetables, ¼ whole grains and ¼ lean proteins such as fish, chicken or turkey breast without the skin, or beans and legumes.

Include foods that are high in fibre, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Fibre helps us feel satisfied and full for longer. If you are hungry between meals, include fruits and vegetables as snacks to help manage hunger levels between meals.

A small amount of heart-healthy fat such as olive oil, avocado or nuts is important to make meals more satisfying and to absorb certain nutrients. Try to limit added fats to 2 tablespoons each day.

​​​ Small Appetites or Want to Stop Losing Weight

If your loved one has a small appetite or is having trouble maintaining their weight, be sure to choose a recipe that is high in protein and calories to help make every bite count. Spread the food out into 5-6 smaller meals in the day. High fibre foods can be too filling for people with small appetites. Choose foods that are easy to digest and lower in fibre, such as mashed potatoes, oatmeal, smoothies, fruits without seeds and skins, ground meats, tofu, nut butters, and milk or soy milk.

Being required to eat with a small appetite can make eating feel overwhelming for your loved one. Try your best to provide the foods and encourage your loved one to eat, while being careful not to be too forceful. It can be hard for caregivers to see your loved one struggling with their eating. If you are finding it is difficult for you, be sure to reach out to the healthcare team for support and additional suggestions.

​​​ Taste Changes

When you're cooking a large number of servings of a recipe, keep the recipe plain. When you're ready to eat, encourage your loved one to add sauces, herbs and other flavours to each individual portion. If your loved one goes through taste changes or has a low appetite, they can adjust the flavours at a given meal to meet their needs.

It can help to add an opposite flavour to balance out the taste change. For example, if food tastes too sweet, add a salty flavour or sauce to that food. For more tips on managing taste changes, check out this video.

​​​ Take Care of Yourself

Caregivers spend so much time and energy caring for others, but you need to remember to take care of yourself too. Plan ahead so you can make healthy meals for you and your loved one, and avoid eating take out or other less healthy options on the run.

Healthy eating is important to keep your strength up to help you better manage the challenges of being a caregiver.

Last reviewed: 9/28/2023
Last modified: 1/23/2024 10:19 AM
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