Eating better with cancer is possible – even when food seems completely unappealing. Read on to find some helpful tips and tricks to maintain your diet throughout the cancer journey. 

We all know that healthy eating is important. If you have a cancer diagnosis, this is especially true. Giving your body the nutrients it needs is an essential part of healing, and eating well can help to boost your immune system and prevent infections.

The only problem? Cancer treatments can make it pretty hard to feel like eating. Mouth ulcers, dry mouth, nausea, changes in taste, and changes in appetite can affect your diet in big ways.

As with all things cancer-related, no two experiences are the same. Some people find that these side effects are minimal, and these people are often able to maintain their regular diet throughout their cancer treatment. Others may discover that they don’t feel like eating anything.

If you fall into the second category and are dealing with a full assortment of symptoms, we’re here to help! Here are our best tips for eating when you don’t feel like eating.

Eating Better With Cancer: Before Treatment

Boost Your Body

Use the time before treatment begins and get a head-start on healthy eating. Eat well-rounded meals with protein, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water and try to avoid very high-fat and high-sugar foods. Set your body up for success.  

Prepare Meals Ahead 

Now’s the time to do a little meal preparation for the days that you don’t feel up to cooking. Stock up on healthy snacks like yoghurt, applesauce, nuts, granola bars, vegetables and good sources of whole grains.

You can also cook meals ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate them in small portions. Buy lots of tinned foods, too. Soups, fruits, chickpeas and beans can all be used to make a quick meal, and they’ll keep in the cupboard for months.

Eating Better With Cancer: During Treatment

Eat Small Portions

Encourage yourself to eat small portions. It’s better to nibble on small quantities of food all day than feel discouraged if you can’t finish an entire plate of food. Use the small side plates in your cupboard (or try plastic food containers) and divide up your meal into manageable parts.

Eat When You Want to Eat

Make the most of the days that you feel like you can eat. If this means that you eat a full meal in the mornings and sip on a cup of soup for supper, that’s perfectly fine. Calories are good at any time of day, so pay attention to the routines that work best for you.

You might also find that some days feel easier than others. On the good days, try to enjoy foods you really love. If that means a plate of brownies, go for it!

Avoid Smells You Don’t Like

If your cancer treatment is making you nauseated, and smells are a problem, try eating cold foods or bland foods that don’t require heating up. Ask your friends and family to deliver food – your house won’t smell like your meal, and you can rest up instead of cooking.

Snacking on frozen foods is another way to avoid smells and scents. Try munching on frozen peas, frozen grapes, or frozen berries. The changed texture and temperature of these foods may be more appealing than hot, cooked meals. And if you’re dealing with mouth ulcers or a sore mouth, cool or frozen foods will be gentler than hot, spicy options.

Be Kind To Your Mouth

Many people describe having a “metallic taste” in their mouths following cancer treatment. If this is happening to you, try switching to wooden or plastic cutlery (which won’t enhance metallic taste). You can also experiment with different herbs and seasonings. Rosemary and mint are potent and can help to overpower metallic taste.

If mouth ulcers or dry mouth are giving you grief, try increasing your liquid intake and using sauces, gravies and condiments to keep your food from going dry. Cool, plain foods will also ease the pain and irritation. Mouth ulcers can also be treated by medication from your doctor so do contact them if required.

Try New Things

Now is a good time to be open to new foods. Things you once hated might now seem appealing! Explore a variety of new flavours over the course of your cancer treatment  – sweet, sour, tart, and savoury. And if nausea shows up, try peppermint and ginger to keep the sickness at bay. Tea or flavoured lozenges can go a long way in helping to settle your stomach.

You know your body best, so pay attention to what feels good and follow that feedback. Don't forget, your medical team can refer you to a dietitian who can offer support and advice.