Fatigue, sensitivity to odors, and other side effects may make preparing food difficult for your loved one. Stress is another factor that may affect meal planning and cooking. Cognitive changes such as memory loss may even present a safety hazard for the patient. As a caregiver, food preparation may be the best way to help your loved one. You may want to reach out to family and friends for additional help. Here are some tips to help make food preparation easier:

Maintain the self-esteem of the patient.

  • Offer to help with the prep work like chopping veggies or marinating meats, but let the patient do the actual cooking if able.

Practice good food safety.

  • Wash hands well before handling food.
  • Cook food thoroughly and cook meats to the proper temperature. Follow the temperature chart on the Food Safety page.
  • Do not reuse utensils or surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat.
  • Learn more about food safety here.

Small may be better.

  • Your loved one may not have much of an appetite, so smaller portion sizes may be the way to go.
  • Serving small meals frequently through the day allow for better digestion, fewer stomach upsets, and more energy.
  • Use smaller plates and cups to help control portion size.

Ask for requests.

  • If you are preparing a meal as a caregiver, check with your loved one to see what food and drink sound good.
  • Try to avoid serving the same thing every day, unless the patient requests it.

Avoid fat.

  • Prepare food by baking, slow-cooking, grilling, or broiling to limit fat. Fats can make some digestive issues worse.
  • But, there is an exception! If the patient needs to gain weight or stop losing weight, add in healthy fats and oils to add extra calories to the food.

Check the spices.

  • Changes in taste and smell are common side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Check in with the patient. You may need to adjust or change spices for changing tastes.
  • If your loved one complains of a metallic taste, switch to plastic utensils and plates.

Keep aromas to a minimum.

  • Sensitivity to smells or odors is another side effect of cancer treatment. If odor is an issue, cook while the survivor is out of the house or asleep.
  • Use fans to move food aromas and cooking smells out of the kitchen and house.
  • A small personal fan at the dinner table also may be helpful.
  • Prepare cold meals like sandwiches, fruit and cheese plates, crackers with peanut butter and celery, and smoothies.
  • Use cups with lids and straws.

Write it down.

  • Use our Meal Planning Worksheet to plan meals in advance.
  • Friends and family may want to help prepare meals. Keep a list on the refrigerator of who is bringing what and when.
  • Label prepared foods with an eat-by date.
  • You can also use online resources to help with meal planning and coordination.

Sip liquids between meals.

  • Staying hydrated is important, so let your loved one sip liquids between meals, but stop drinking 30 minutes before a meal or snack to build an appetite.
  • Drinking too much at a meal, especially low-calorie beverages, can replace vital nutrient dense foods like meat, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Limit drinks with meals so more solid foods with calories can be consumed.

Serve moist foods.

  • Foods with moisture like tomatoes, fruits, other vegetables, gelatin, soups, puddings, and ice cream all provide water. So, the patient won’t need a big glass of water with the meal.
  • Moist foods require less cutting and chewing which conserves energy to eat the rest of the prepared food.
  • Moist foods are also easier to swallow.

Use pictures of food to stimulate appetites if your loved one doesn’t want to eat.

  • Seeing food advertisements and magazine pictures can help stimulate the appetite or trigger memories of good meals.
  • Share your magazines or grocery store ads with the patient, and use them for meal ideas.

Be social.

  • Meals are only healthy and nutritious if the patient consumes them. Making meals social and fun can help with appetite.
  • Sit down and eat with your loved one and talk about something other than treatments and meal preparation.