What I Ate During Chemo
TL;DR: anything I could handle, but as you’ll see below there aren’t any rules.
Omgosh, it hasn’t even been that long since my diagnosis and even I’m tired of hearing about it.
But, chances are if you know someone going through chemo, you know someone who is having a hard time eating.
Cancer, Cancer, Cancer!
There is so much to learn for anyone going through cancer treatment, and one very important topic is nutrition.
Slaying this dragon is a complicated journey, but the best foods to eat while on chemo, shouldn’t be complicated.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, any cancer, your life is swallowed whole by the beast, and you soon learn your number one goal is to stay alive and that means your biggest job is to eat.
Easier said than done for some.
My dearly departed Aunt Mimi and FIL ascribed to the philosophy that if you can eat, even when sick, you’re going to be okay.
So, what foods should a patient eat during chemo (and radiation)?
What did I eat?
ANYTHING I WANTED!
Well, that’s partially true.
While nutrition is important for overcoming chemo and offering fuel to repair cells, sometimes, a chemo patient simply needs calories.
Read that again.
No shaming folks into what’s good for them, if all they can do is simply get something down.
The time will come again when they can eat nutritionally sound meals; until then – whatever it takes to get calories.
Casseroles and huge meals are fine for caregivers and family, but chemo patients need something altogether different.
Foods for cancer patients can vary wildly.
Follow their lead. Chemotherapy isn’t a one-for-all treatment. Each treatment is different and causes a unique set of side effects.
Gently offer a variety of foods, but listen to their needs.
Can I eat pizza during chemo?
Did you know this is one of the most asked questions?
Our love of pizza runs deep, y’all!
The answer is simple: if your body can tolerate it, you can eat pizza!
Sometimes, its’ the small things that bring the biggest comfort while in treatment.
What follows is my experience and what I called my chemo diet.
For the first couple of days after my first chemo treatment, I was good.
Eating, napping, hydrating. Repeat.
About three days post treatment, I developed chemo mouth.
Let’s see if I can adequately describe chemo mouth sores:
* When my mouth was empty, it was sore and tender to the touch, but not horrible.
* When I drank water, my mouth let me know that I best trod carefully. Don’t be swilling stuff willy-nilly, yo.
* When I ate anything from tiny oyster crackers, that dissolved quickly, to mashed bananas and applesauce, my mouth protested by throwing kerosene around and lighting a match while running around knifing all the raw surfaces.
Yep, like that.
So what the hell to you feed someone going through chemo?
[Tweet “What I ate during chemo.”]
Is there a cancer diet that comes in a handout at your doc visits?
That’s a big fat no.
Most docs have very little training in cancer patient nutrition, so you’re left to your own understanding or research.
Which sucks – cause you’re sick and now you gotta educate yourself – or have someone in your corner taking care of this piece.
Here’s how I approached what I ate during chemo:
#1: Everything that went in my mouth had to be nutrient-packed fuel to build new cells. Period.
#2: When #1 failed, I went with high calorie, soothing, foods.
Calories are as needed as fuel to make sure my body had the energy to heal from chemo.
When I was at my sickest, when I could barely eat anything, when I was losing a pound a day – all that mattered was that I ate something.
My top 10 list of foods I ate during chemo:
These foods not only nourished my body, but they also fed my soul.
Foods that taste good during chemo:
- Strawberry Smoothies
- Mashed Bananas Covered In Cold Apple Sauce
- Scrambled Eggs
- Mac and Cheese
- Pureed Soups
1: Strawberry smoothies.
This smoothie could also have added nut butters or anything else high in nutrition, including other fruits, as long as there were no chunks or even the hint of a chunk.
Chunk = pain.
No chunks, pls…k…thx.
Using cold frozen strawberries helped ease my pain, and ensured nutrition and much needed fiber.
If you are lactose intolerant, use almond milk.
2: Mashed bananas covered in cold applesauce.
Hello, baby food!
If you know me, you know I despise a ripe banana. I like ’em on the green side.
So, in order to eat a banana, and partake of its nutritional goodness, I had to let it get spots before mashing.
I looked at it in the bowl and thought I’d hurk, so I covered it in cold applesauce.
While not particularly delish, it worked.
I got it all down.
Yes, this flies in the face of “it needs to be mush” before I can eat it.
Yet, the softness of Naan allowed me to chew very small bites at the front of my mouth, before I swallowed.
It did produce a fiery pain, but it was worth the carbs!
4: Prunes, when I could stand them.
Moving your bowels during chemo treatments can be difficult because of the drugs they give you, and high fiber prunes got the job done.
You’d be surprised at how much attention is given to poo when you’re going through treatment.
Ewwww! and YAY!!!!
Some folks will develop an aversion to sweets while on chemo, but if they don’t: pudding!
This cake filling is made with pudding and could be ideal!
It’s extremely light, has lots of milk protein (build those cells!), and you can adjust the pudding to whatever flavor you prefer.
Or Jello, which I can’t stand regardless of chemo.
With lots of whipped cream!
Milk has easy protein. Protein is essential for building cells.
Chemo kills dem cells, so you need an easy protein to rebuild.
7: Scrambled eggs
Scrambled eggs were my BFFs during chemo mouth.
Easy to digest.
Easy to make.
No chewing required.
If your patient can stand it, throw a bit of cheese in the mix, or some milk.
Oatmeal is another meal high in fiber.
Throw in fruit puree and it’s comforting for body and soul (if you’re an oatmeal lover).
9: Easy meals that didn’t work for me, but have for others:
* Ice cream bucket and one spoon.
* Pureed soups.
* Veggies pureed into soups.
10: My favorite go-to meal after chemo was homemade mac and cheese.
Hold the crunchy breadcrumb topping.
The week prior to each chemo treatment, I would feel pretty good – on the upswing – so I’d make a few meals that could be eaten after chemo.
We lived on mac and cheese.
Lots of protein and carbs, but mostly it was a love hug that assured me I’d get through this storm.
Foods to boost immune system during chemo.
Many of the foods above will provide your body good nutrition through treatment.
When you’re job is to eat through the worst physical time in your life, try getting most of your immunity boosters from your food.
- Pureed Soft Fruits
- Mashed Soft Veggies
- Hard Boiled, Soft Boiled or Scrambled Eggs
- Mashed Beans
- Full Fat Milk
- Cream of Wheat
- Baked Potatoes
Soft food recipes for cancer patients.
The recipes for soft foods are basically what we have already talked about.
If it’s soft enough for a baby without teeth, it’s great for a cancer patient that is struggling to eat.
Simply making sure the food is easy to digest, is packed full of nutrition, and the patient can keep it down.
One thing we haven’t talked about is baby food.
There are people going through chemotherapy and radiation that find is super difficult to eat, so opening a small jar of baby food is doable and you can stick with flavors you like.
There are Non-Gmo and organic choices available.
Alcohol and chemotherapy
You would think alcohol and chemotherapy would be a hard no, but my oncologist advised that an occasional drink, after I was feeling better, usually before the next round, was okay.
I personally didn’t drink through treatment, mostly because I barely wanted to eat and alcohol added zero nutrition, but I have known others who have.
Things not to do while on chemotherapy.
Well, there’s probably lots of things you wouldn’t feel up to, there are a few foods best avoided while in treatment.
- Anything raw or undercooked
- Spicy or highly acidic foods
- Big fatty meals
- Certain Supplements (check with yer doc)
- Hard or sharp foods, if mouth sores are present
Recipes for cancer patients with no appetite.
There are a few tricks for those patients that have no appetite:
- Snack – all day if necessary. Just make sure something of nutritional value is offered. These small eating periods are better than no eating.
- Less fluid intake during meals. More fluid = decreased appetite.
- Cold foods are more palatable and easier to get down. Even if it’s plain vanilla ice cream – cold is good. Freeze a smoothie into ice cubes and as they melt they are easy to eat.
- Nut butters straight from jar if necessary!
- Natural juices, juiced at home if you can for optimal nutrition intake.
- Offer an array of foods, but maybe one option at a time because many patients develop smell aversions.
What about supplement drinks?
I tried both Ensure and Boost supplement drinks, but found them difficult to get down.
The texture was fine – it was the taste I found hard to stomach.
Vanilla is least offensive when it’s cold. Really Cold. Very cold.
While my docs and I were on the same page about supplement drinks (eat real food first), if you’re not getting your nutritional needs met, have a can.
My experience with fruits and veggies.
This is such a personal choice. I found it hard to eat salads or anything crunchy, but you should try and find a way to include them in your diet.
* Nothing acidic.
I love Cuties – through treatment, as I stated above, they were too acidic.
You think your mouth is trying to kill you now, throw in some salad dressing or BBQ sauce and see what the hell happens.
Yep, speaking from personal experience.
* Plain baked potatoes, cut into small bite-sized pieces.
This was a favorite meal of mine.
You can try butter or sour cream, if you’re feeling bold.
I couldn’t handle pepper or any seasonings.
* Smoothies were a great way to incorporate fruits and veggies.
If you can handle a smoothie, here are a few to try (you can omit any offending ingredient and add soothing yogurt or bananas).
CAVEAT: Blend the holy hell outta that smoothie! No chunks!
Chemo tips and tricks.
Tip #1: When you feel good, and you will, EAT!
Tip #2: When you don’t feel good, try to eat; make it your job to eat.
Your body needs protein to replace the good cells that will aid in your recovery. Your body is still seeking nutrients, even when you don’t feel like eating. Your body must be fueled properly for the fight.
Eating through chemo mouth proved to be almost the most difficult challenge I faced during chemo.
I lost weight quickly simply because I couldn’t tolerate anything in my mouth.
I looked at eating as my job – because it became clear early on that if I didn’t eat, my health was going to suffer immensely.
I tried to eat something every two hours, and every two hours I fought with myself, through tears of frustration and fear, to EAT.
Cause you know, if I ate, everything was gonna be okay. I wanted to be okay, so I tortured myself to EAT.
While experiencing chemo mouth, most days it would take me an hour to eat one scrambled egg. So you can see why I say there is NO SHAME in getting anything into your body during treatment.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and is only based purely on my experience.
I know some of you probably have great suggestions to add to this list.
Get to it!
Tell us what you ate during chemo.
My constant prayer for everyone who reads these words is full restoration of mind, body, and spirit. Fight the fear of what might be with the light of God within.
You’re stronger than you think.
Onward, my beautiful friends.
Original Post: July 3, 2015 ~ Updated Post: October 28, 2022
Melinda A Snyder
Tuesday 28th of September 2021
Thank you for these tips. Very helpful. Going through colon cancer treatments and having a tough time eating that first week after chemo. treatment. 2nd week much better. That's when I can eat the best and most. Can't have cold stuff for the first week because of treatments.
Wednesday 29th of September 2021
Prayers for full recovery of good health!
Monday 26th of July 2021
Hi there! I know This post is old you might not see this but wanted to thank you for all these tips. My mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer and I want to put together a diet/ list for her to help her out. This will be very very helpful and I appreciate this. I hope You’re doing well and beat cancers butt!
Wednesday 11th of August 2021
@Patti Tucker, Hi Patti-I’ve just been diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, and am really scared. I’m going to need 12 weeks of chemo, radiation and targeted therapy for a year. I’m most worried about the chemo side effects. Do you throw up day and night? How do you take the anti nausea medicine when you’re already nauseous? Thank you for your time, and your encouraging post.
Monday 26th of July 2021
You are welcome! Your momma is a lucky duck to have you in her corner. I am 6 years post cancer - hoping the very best for you and your mom.
Thank you so much for the great comment.
Saturday 24th of July 2021
Thanks so much my son 29 recently diagnosed and starting chemo and radiation Aug 2 looking for anything to help
Monday 26th of July 2021
I'm so sorry for the diagnosis. Prayers that he remains strong and comes through treatment with little issues. He's blessed to have you in his corner!
Saturday 10th of July 2021
We are on the exact same page. Its such a struggle the first 10 days after chemo to find something I can eat. Its usually bread and water. I cant tolerate any dairy anymore. I've lost about 25 pounds since starting chemo but good news is that I had my last round thursday! Thank you for posting.
Sunday 11th of July 2021
I pray your recovery is swift and complete. So happy you're done.
Tuesday 11th of May 2021
OMG what an excellent article! Hit every nail on the head! So hard to stay positive when just eating and pooping is so incredibly difficult. Thank you for sharing your journey!
Thursday 13th of May 2021
Thank YOU for coming and sharing. It is such a difficult journey and I'm hoping to be a voice of encouragement.