Having little or no appetite and feeling full quickly is a distressing feature of some types of cancer treatments, and of advanced cancer. Although there are no quick fixes some of the tips below may help. Your goal when eating should be to try and maximise the amount of calories and nutrients you take in each day without necessarily eating more food. Endeavouring to eat is the best thing you can do to help to gain strength and energy.
Many people instinctively find it is easier to eat little and often of foods they like. If one literally has no appetite even this can be challenging. If this is you, perhaps try and see food as medicine – something you ‘take’ at certain times in order to help get you through the day.
Don’t wait until you are hungry. If you can only eat a couple of mouthfuls at a time, try and eat something – or have a prescribed supplement drink – every hour. If you are able to manage a bit more in one go then every hour and a half to two hours may be sufficient. Check with your medical team for guidance as to how often you should eat and how many calories you should aim to take in per day. Here is some guidance from Cancer Research UK on supplement drinks to make and to buy.
Choose high calorie foods where possible. For example, a small handful of nuts will give you about 200 calories, and they are full of nutrients too. One tablespoon of peanut butter (which can go on toast, in rice pudding, on a small pancake or in a savoury sauce) has 100 calories and 8 grams of fat.
Although carbohydrate rich food and drinks like biscuits, cakes and energy drinks should not be avoided, it is important to try and eat some protein-containing foods too- boiled eggs, beef mince in gravy, cheese toasties, biscuits with peanut butter spread on them.
Use full-fat milk and cheeses where milk or cheese is used. You can also fortify milk to use in food and as a drink. To do this, add 4 tbsp of skimmed milk powder (for example, Marvel) to 450 ml (1 pint) of full-fat milk. This adds extra protein and Vitamins A and D.
Drink liquids between meals so as not to fill you up before you get food calories in you. Drink just what you need to swallow your food easily, but drink freely between meals.
Make your liquids count as food at least some of the time: fortified milk in tea and coffee, malted milk beverages, milk or soymilk shakes, nectar style juices (apricot, pineapple, pear, mango). Soups can count as food and liquids.
Add 1-2 tsps of rapeseed oil to individual servings of soup, stews, smoothies – anything where it can reasonably be added without altering the taste or mouthfeel of the food.
Keep snacks handy – the higher calorie, the better.
Quick snack ideas: smoothies, hard-boiled eggs, granola, nuts and seeds, nut ‘butters’ to spread on crackers, mini pancakes and biscuits (peanut, pumpkin seed, macadamia, almond and ‘rainforest’ are all good and can be found in health food stores), avocadoes, instant porridge (add honey or nut butter), fruit smoothie-type ice lollies, individual refrigerated and non-refrigerated desserts and fruity yogurts/fromage frais, custard, energy/power bars, packets or little tubs of dried fruit and nut mixes (or make your own), cheese portions, crackers and biscuits (quality ones), tinned fruits, fresh fruit (especially tropical fruits as they have more calories than orchard fruits and berries).
Jazz up prescribed supplement drinks with fruit juices, lemonade, ginger beer, whizzed in fruit, vanilla extract or similar (such as almond or peppermint)
Easy Food ideas:
Add nut butters such as almond, macadamia, cashew, Brazil and pumpkin seed (find at health food stores or online) or fruit compote to individual servings of rice pudding or porridge. This is also a fabulous breakfast for children (with porridge).
Blend avocado or silken tofu into smoothies (you won’t taste it).
Start the day with a freshly made juice to get lovely nutrients without having to eat lots of healthy but low calorie fruit and veg.
Add grated cheese or olive oil to mashed potatoes; make potato rostis and top with a poached or scrambled egg (depending on whether you can have poached eggs or not).
Minced beef or lamb with gravy and butter-added mashed potatoes.
Quality anchovies in olive oil mashed onto buttered toast or in a bread roll.
Polenta (fine cornmeal – Italian or Indian style) made with stock and butter, parmesan and herbs (sage or oregano are lovely) added. This is a quick and delicious change from mashed potato or rice.
Creamy soups – homemade or bought. These can be used as quick sauces for plain fish or chicken too.
Quiches, creamy (dairy or non-dairy) pasta dishes, pasta dishes with olive oil-based vegetable sauce or pesto made with pine nuts and olive oil.
Small portions (even kids’ meals from the supermarket) of macaroni cheese, shepherd’s and cottage pies, lasagne, fish goujons – that kind of thing. Bought is fine. Homemade, even better.
Toasties made by buttering two slices of bread and sandwiching in cheese and ham, or the ‘Elvis’: banana and some almond butter. Sauté the sandwich in a medium hot pan. The latter is seriously calorific and high in fat, so ‘use sparingly’.
Pop ‘high calorie high nutrient recipes’ into your computer’s search engine and get even more ideas.
If you have any ideas you would like to contribute, please get in touch.