Fatigue, sensitivity to odors, and other side effects may make preparing food difficult for someone in cancer treatment. Cognitive changes such as memory loss may even present a safety hazard if using a stove or other hot appliance. Or, you may simply have enough on your mind without having to stress over food preparation.

Here are some tips to help make food preparation easier:

Ask for help.

  • Let your caregiver help with food preparation. Ask other friends and family to help as well. Most people want to help, but they just don’t know how. Preparing food or providing meals is an easy way for someone to help you during treatment.
  • Make sure the person preparing the meal knows your food needs. If there are any foods you can’t eat, provide a list.
  • Share a recipe if your loved one isn’t sure what to prepare.

Small may be better.

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

Keep it simple.

  • You don’t need to prepare a four course meal for every dinner. In fact, you may not even need to cook at all. Check out our Meal and Snack Ideas for easy-to-make meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with minimal cooking required.

Reduce fat.

  • Prepare food by baking, slow-cooking, grilling, or broiling to limit fat. Fats can make some digestive issues worse.
  • An exception: If you need 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.
  • Taste as you cook. You may need to adjust or change spices based on your changing tastes.
  • If you experience a metallic taste in your mouth, switch to plastic utensils and plates.

Keep aromas to a minimum.

  • Sensitivity to smells or odors is a side effect of cancer treatment.
  • Use fans to move food aromas and cooking smells out of the kitchen and house.
  • Prepare cold meals like sandwiches, fruit and cheese plates, crackers and celery with peanut butter, and smoothies.
  • Use cups with lids and straws.

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.

Write it down.

  • 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 use our Meal Planning Worksheet to plan your menus.

Sip liquids between meals.

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

Serve moist foods.

  • Foods with moisture like tomatoes, fruits, other vegetables, gelatin, soups, puddings, and ice cream all provide water.
  • 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.
  • If you have difficulty swallowing, check out our Soft Foods List for more ideas.

Use pictures of food to stimulate your appetite.

  • Seeing food advertisements, magazine pictures, or food TV shows can help stimulate the appetite or trigger memories of good meals.

Be social.

  • Meals are only healthy and nutritious if you consume them. Making meals social and fun can help improve your appetite.
  • Sit down and eat with your friends and family, and talk about something other than treatment and meal preparation.