Side effects of cancer treatment can include loss of appetite, food aversions, early fullness, and a general lack of interest in eating. You may find it easier to eat smaller meals or snacks more frequently throughout the day rather than three sizable meals. Think of splitting your day into five or six mini meals or snacks that each contain protein, carbohydrates, and good-for-you fats.
Pairing protein and carbohydrates with mini meals and snacks
The snack and mini meal suggestions below include protein and carbohydrates. Choose one item from each column and combine it to create a mini meal or snack. Then add good-for-you fats like olive oil, avocado oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters, and seeds wherever you can.
Getting enough of each of these three components is crucial for keeping up your strength during treatment: Proteins are building blocks for muscles, blood cells, and other tissues that need repair; carbohydrates provide nutrients and fiber; fats help prevent unintentional weight loss.
- Hardboiled egg
- Mini quiche
- Cheese – any kind
- Cottage cheese
- Yogurt (Greek and Icelandic yogurt contain 3-times the protein of regular yogurt)
- Nuts – all types
- Seeds – (sunflower, pumpkin, hemp hearts)
- Nut butters – peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, or sunflower butter
- Sliced oven-roasted turkey or lean roast beef
- Tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad, chickpea salad, tofu, or lentil salad
- Super firm tofu
- Turkey meatballs
- Roasted chickpeas
- Whole grain crackers*
- Whole grain bread/toast*
- Pita bread
- English muffin
- Tortilla chips
- Fruit – whole or sliced apples, bananas, pears, peaches, melon, oranges, berries, pineapple, or mixed fruit salad
- Frozen fruit (blended with plain, Greek yogurt)
- Raw vegetables – carrots, peppers, celery, snap peas, broccoli florets, cauliflower
- Dried fruit – dates, mango, raisins
- Roasted root vegetables – sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets, parsnips
Good to know
Look for the word “whole” in the first ingredient when choosing breads, crackers, and cereals. Whole grains offer more complete health benefits than refined grains.
If you’re finding it hard to eat during cancer care, you might consider opting for impactful snacks that pack a large amount of nutrients into smaller portion sizes.
Here are some of our top overall tips:
- Include fruits and vegetables in your snacks for fiber and nutrients.
- Limit snacks with added sugars, like cookies, candy, and ice cream.
- If friends or family offer their help, ask them to cut up fresh vegetables and fruits or make a cheese and cracker plate ahead of time so you have snackable food that’s easily accessible.
- Energy bites are a great way to achieve nutritional goals. We love this recipe for homemade energy bites that you can make batches to keep in the freezer!
Examples of impactful snacks
- 1 slice of whole grain toast with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
- ½ cup cottage cheese with whole grain crackers or fresh fruit
- 1 sliced apple with ½ oz of nuts or a cheese stick
- ¼ cup hummus with tortilla chips, baby carrots, sliced peppers, or cucumbers
- ½ English muffin topped with tomato sauce and grated cheese, toasted
- ½ cup Greek yogurt with blueberries and chopped nuts
- ½ cup tuna or chicken salad on toast or whole grain crackers
- 1 oz cheddar cheese and fruit
- 2 cups of popcorn sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, or hemp hearts
Mini meals are a little larger than snacks, but not as big as a full meal. Here are some examples of a three-day mini meal schedule (six mini meals per day) that can be mixed and matched based on your tastes and preferences.
|Mini meal 1 ||Mini meal 2 ||Mini meal 3 ||Mini meal 4 ||Mini meal 5 ||Mini meal 6 |
|Day 1||Quick cook steel cut oatmeal with sliced banana and 2 tbsp chopped nuts||2 dates and ¼ cup of nuts||½ sandwich (turkey and cheese, tuna, tofu, or egg salad) on whole grain bread and sliced cucumbers with hummus||¾ cup Greek yogurt with granola and berries||8-10 tortilla chips topped with black beans, salsa and grated Mexican cheese, toasted||1 granola bar topped with 1 tbsp peanut butter|
|Day 2||1 egg (fried or scrambled in olive oil) 1 toasted English muffin with earth balance and/or 1 slice of cheese with and ½ cup sliced melon||Smoothie made with 1 cup milk or alternative, ½ cup frozen fruit, and 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt||1 cup soup served with 1 oz cheese or 1/3 cup tuna salad and whole grain crackers||1 sliced apple and 10 almonds||½ wrap or burrito with chicken or beans, guacamole, or avocado||1/3 cup hummus with baby carrots and pita chips|
|Day 3||1 slice whole grain toast with peanut butter and sliced banana||1 store bought protein shake (such as Orgain) or a homemade shake with protein powder added — we love this recipe||Small portion of leftovers served on an appetizer-sized plate||3 energy bites||Open-faced beef or turkey burger served on whole grain toast topped with avocado, cheese, pickles, and condiments of choice||½ cup homemade trail mix made with nuts, dry cereal, and dried fruit|
The Iris Care Team is available to support you and help you meet your nutritional needs.