9 Ways to Get Your Loved One to Eat During Chemotherapy

By Diana Bierman
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

  • 9 Ways to Get Your Loved One to Eat During Chemotherapy
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    Preparing foods for a loved one going through chemo can be frustrating. You know it’s important for your spouse, parent or child to eat—getting key nutrients can help them stay strong, enhance treatment and speed recovery. But when they have no appetite and even their favorite foods are no longer tempting, what can you do? Try these tips!

  • 1. Offer mini-meals.
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    1. Offer mini-meals.

    A big meal can bring on bloat or nausea when you’re undergoing chemo. So skip the three main meals and serve up five or six mini-meals instead, recommends the National Cancer Institute. The strategy will help keep a light hunger going, making it more likely your loved one will actually anticipate the next healthy bite. Note: Forget about greasy or fried foods, which can bring on bloat even in small portions.

  • 2. Intensify the flavor.
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    2. Intensify the flavor.

    Forty percent of folks on chemo say food tastes metallic, according to a study at the University of Virginia. You can help counter the effect by adding flavorful ingredients to dishes. For instance, toss crumbled blue cheese onto a salad or sprinkle cinnamon onto a bowl of oatmeal. One caveat: Steer clear of “heat”—jalapenos, black pepper—which can upset the stomach.

  • 3. Take the focus off food.
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    3. Take the focus off food.

    Play calming music during a meal, or pepper the conversation with a few good jokes. Diverting your loved one’s attention from the smell and taste of food can make it easier for them to take in needed calories. It can also create a mental block against nausea, according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.

  • 4. Go for soothing snacks.
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    4. Go for soothing snacks.

    Integrate mild foods, such as plain yogurt and bananas, into your loved one’s diet to help alleviate nausea, boost the immune system and speed healing. The American Cancer Society suggests other simple foods, such as white rice or chicken noodle soup; they don’t give off a strong smell, are calming on the stomach and are easily digestible.

  • 5. Provide nausea-stopping sips.
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    5. Provide nausea-stopping sips.

    If nausea is a big problem, try offering fruit juice, clear soup and flat ginger ale, all of which can help. Or offer a hard candy or a piece of ice to suck on. Munching on crackers or toast throughout the day can also help alleviate queasiness. And protein-rich foods, such as nuts, a piece of cheese or a spoonful of peanut butter also may help nix nausea.

  • 6. Be patient.
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    6. Be patient.

    Don’t rush or hurry your loved one when they’re eating. Be understanding and sympathetic, offer words of encouragement and speak in a soothing tone. Say something like, “I know it’s unpleasant, but just one more bite and then you’re done,” or offer supportive words like, “I know you can do it.”

  • 7. Set a routine—but keep it fun.
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    7. Set a routine—but keep it fun.

    Sticking to set mealtimes will help your loved one mentally and physically prepare for dining. What you can change? The ambiance! For instance, add candlelight. Or set up cute dining trays in the den, where you can watch a great movie while you eat. A new environment is sometimes all someone going through chemotherapy needs to reduce monotony and refuel the desire to eat.

  • 8. Play up the importance of eating.
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    8. Play up the importance of eating.

    It’s common for people undergoing chemotherapy to ask, “Why do I have to eat this?” Well, give them an answer! Try: “Eating a healthy diet as you go through chemo will help your body rebuild tissues and fight infection better. That means you will be feeling your best sooner rather than later.” How can they argue with that?

  • 9. Don’t force it.
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    9. Don’t force it.

    If they’re still clenching their jaw and pursing their lips, don’t pressure your loved one to eat. But make sure they drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help counter the dehydrating effects of vomiting and diarrhea. If they don’t care for water, try herbal tea, sports drinks and fruit juices.

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