Making meals is always nice but to truly be helpful here are some key things to consider when cooking or bringing over a meal.

Joyce Hendley, M.S.

Pictured Recipe: Chicken Potpie with Biscuits

You don't need special cooking sklls to cook for someone with cancer-whether that person is you or someone else. But you do need an open mind and a bit of patience-and you'll want to brush up on your food-safety savvy.

Everyone's needs during cancer treatment are a little bit different. There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to eating when you have cancer. Someone with a more advanced form of cancer, like metastatic breast cancer, or a more aggressive treatment plan will likely have different needs than someone with early stage cancer or someone undergoing a treatment plan with fewer side effects.

Here are some tips to guide you in the kitchen and to keep in mind if you're bringing over a meal.

Related: What to Eat with Common Cancer Symptoms

1. Serve small portions

Often people with cancer aren't able to eat large amounts at once. Try keeping portions small, and consider more frequent snacks throughout the day. Serve meals on small plates. If you're making food to freeze, divide it into individual portions.

2. Make food pretty

Take time to arrange the food attractively. Serve or enjoy the meal in an uncluttered, serene spot-which might not be the dining room. Be creative! Consider colorful napkins and even (unscented) candles or flowers for a special touch. If you're dropping off a meal, consider bringing over something to make it more special like flowers or a set of new cloth napkins.

3. Cook and serve in fresh air

If food smells are a turn-off, make sure to keep the kitchen well ventilated. Serve or eat the meal in a seperate room, far from the kitchen area if possible. If needed, serve foods cold or at room temperature, to avoid the aroma they emit from steaming. If you're bringing over a meal, consider bringing a salad that can be served cold to avoid strong smells from re-heating.

4. Be flexible

The very nature of cancer's effects on appetite means that you or the person you're cooking for might have sudden, unpredictable changes around eating. He or she might ask you to prepare something she's craving, and then by the time you've made it, it doesn't appeal anymore. Or a favorite food mgiht suddenly be nauseating one day, and then work wonderfully the next. Your best bet is to breathe deeply, accept it and move on. Try something else. When bringing food over, bring multiple elements. This way if the soup doesn't sound good there is still bread and cheese to nibble on.

5. Support, gently

If it's not a good eating day, keep trying, but don't push. Focus instead on hydration. Liquid foods that also provide nutrients and calories, such as broth, gelatin, sports drinks, or even popsicles, can help. Packing these extra "treats" when you are bringing a meal is also nice for days when your loved one's appetite is low.

6. Be creative

Because cancer can cause changes in taste, consider this an opportunity to get out of a food rut and try something new. Add variety and flavor by trying new recipes, or using a differet sauce or seasoning to shake up the mix. Get inspiration from these healthy recipes for when you have cancer that feature nutrient-packed whole foods.

Tips for bringing meals to your loved one with cancer

Bringing food to someone is sick is thoughtful. People going through cancer treatment won't always have as much energy or time to go to the grocery store or cook for themselves. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Consider changing tastes and appetite.

Bringing mild foods (with spice on the side) or soft foods, like soup, might be helpful. When in doubt, ask if anything sounds particularly good or is especially off-putting to them.


Bring food in dishes you don't need back, when possible.

Choose disposable containers to prevent your loved one from needing to wash and return plates and containers.


Set up a delivery time and let your friend or family member know when to expect you.

If they aren't feeling up for a visit, drop off the food and go.


Ask about any food allergies or intolerances.

If your friend isn't eating gluten or is allergic to nuts, that's something to know before bringing over a meal. Consider taking the lead and setting up a virtual meal train using mealtrain.com, which allows you to note dietary preferences and allergies.


Live far away?

Order takeout delivered to the house or send groceries via a delivery service. Sending paper goods, like plates and napkins (even toilet paper), is a nice gesture too.

Related:

Make-Ahead Freezer Meals

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