Trouble eating

Even though you might not feel like it, it’s important to have proper nutrition during treatment due to the stress that treatment puts on your body. Your treatment plan may include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or other therapies which make it difficult to eat.

Some eating problems are caused by the treatment itself. Other times, you may have trouble eating because you’re upset, worried, or afraid.

Here are a few general rules:

  • When you’re up to it, eat foods high in calories and proteins . They will keep up your strength, prevent body tissues from breaking down, and rebuild tissues that cancer treatment may harm.
  • Many teens find their appetite is better in the morning. Take advantage of this and eat a big breakfast.
  • If only a few kinds of food appeal to you, that’s OK – eat up! In time, other foods will taste good, too.
  • On those days when you just can’t eat much, don’t worry about it. Do what you can to make yourself feel better. A little physical activity might help your appetite.
  • Drink lots of fluids, especially on the days you can’t eat too much. Water is essential to keep everything working properly. Try carrying a water bottle with you during the day.

Nutrition-related side-effects and What to Do

(with thanks to Jennifer Glen, pediatric dietician, Strong Memorial Hospital , Rochester , NY )

Loss of Appetite

  • Try liquid or powdered meal replacements when it’s hard to eat – instant breakfasts, purchased supplements.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. They’re easier to eat.
  • Keep lots of healthy snacks nearby: cheese and crackers, ice cream, peanut butter, pudding, fruit. Take portable snacks with you.
  • Drink lots of beverages: juice, soup, milkshakes.
  • Change the form of food – instead of fresh fruit, mix it in a milkshake.
  • Try soft, cool or frozen foods: yogurt, milkshakes, popsicles.
  • Eat when you’re hungry.
  • Make mealtimes relaxed and pleasant.
  • Eat food that looks good. It’ll taste better!
  • Exercise regularly. Find an exercise buddy!

Altered Taste

  • Eat foods that look and smell good to you.
  • Add spices, bacon, or onion to enhance flavor
  • Use plastic utensils instead of metal (chemo sometimes gives food a metallic taste).
  • Eat foods at room temperature or cooler.
  • Sip ginger ale, suck on hard candy, or add freshly squeezed lemon.
  • Practice regular mouth care. Try rinsing with a mixture of 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 C. water


  • Consume plenty of liquids: water, other beverages, soups, popsicles.
  • Try increasing your physical activity, if OK with the docs.
  • Slowly increase high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads.
  • Try adding wheat bran to foods such as hot and cold cereals, applesauce, pudding, pancake and muffin batters or on casseroles.


  • Eliminate high-fat, fried foods
  • Avoid gassy or irritating high fiber foods (stay away from corn & broccoli!) and very spicy foods.
  • Drink lots of unsweetened fluids.
  • Eat small but frequent meals.
  • Limit caffeine (drink decaffeinated coffee and sodas).
  • Reduce dairy products, if it helps.
  • Increase foods with potassium like potatoes, bananas, melons. Also sports drinks.

Nausea & vomiting

  • Ask about anti-nausea medication.
  • Avoid fatty, greasy, fried or very sweet foods.
  • Eat small amounts, often and slowly.
  • Eat before you’re hungry because hunger can increase nausea.
  • Don’t eat your favorite foods when you’re nauseated. You may develop a permanent dislike for them.
  • Sip liquids throughout the day.
  • Eat foods at room temperature.
  • Rest after eating but avoid lying down for about 1 hour.
  • Avoid eating 1-2 hours before treatment.
  • Wait at least 15 minutes after eating to drink.
  • Try ginger ale, ginger tea, or crystallized ginger.
  • Practice relaxation techniques .

Dry Mouth

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Increase intake of sauces, gravies, and salad dressings.
  • Eat soft, moist foods (applesauce, puddings, pasta).
  • With each mouthful of food, sip on fluids to help with chewing.
  • Suck on ice chips or sugar-free popsicles.
  • Swab mouth with tasteless cooking oil.
  • Try mints or sugar-free gum/candy to stimulate saliva.
  • Drink sugar-free lemonade, orange soft drinks.
  • Avoid commercial mouthwashes and alcohol – they contribute to dryness.
  • Ask your doctor or dentist about products that moisten your mouth and throat.

Mouth Sores

  • Use good oral hygiene, including rinsing with ¼ tsp baking soda and 1 c. water.
  • Avoid commercial mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
  • Cut food into small pieces.
  • Avoid spicy, salty, acidic foods: citrus, tomatoes.
  • Avoid very hot or very cold foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Try eating small, frequent meals.
  • Try soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow: milkshakes, macaroni and cheese, scrambled eggs, applesauce, bananas. You get the idea!

Weight Loss

  • Get the most from each meal by choosing high calorie/high protein foods.
  • Eat small, frequent meals. They’re easier to eat!
  • Drink liquids between meals such as milkshakes or other supplements (“instant breakfasts”).
  • Add whole milk or dry milk to recipes.
  • Snack between meals on foods such a yogurt, custard, pudding, nuts. Keep a box of raisins on hand!
  • Add fat and other high calorie foods such as ice-cream, cheeses, and nuts.

Weight Gain

  • Talk with a dietitian and your doc about limiting the use of salt.
  • Eats lots of fruits and vegetables instead of high fat foods.
  • Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products (skim milk, light yogurt).
  • Choose low-fat cooking methods (broiling, steaming) vs. deep-fried.
  • Reduce the use of butter, mayonnaise, sweets, and other extras.
  • Increase the amount of exercise, if OK with your docs

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