It’s hard to watch someone you love lose weight during cancer treatment, and when it does, you can feel helpless and anxious. The disease itself, the barrage of medicine that comes with it, and all those nasty side effects do a number on tastebuds, so don’t take it personally if they reject your offerings.
To encourage the person you love to hunker down and put some weight on – or at least stop losing weight – there’s a lot you can do. Here’s some advice that will help you both get through it.
Offer a variety of choices.
Consider including different textures like crunchy toast and crackers, smooth puddings and milkshakes, or chewy fruit snacks like dried ginger, apricots, and pears. Food temperatures can offer variety too, from hot soups to frozen smoothies or sandwiches at room temperature. An assortment of flavors can help your patient find something she can tolerate and even enjoy, like salty peanut butter or sweet fruits and vegetables. She might take only a smidgen of what’s on offer, but the variety will help both of you figure out what’s going to work best during the long course of treatment.
Make food look appealing.
Chefs understand that “we eat with our eyes,” so adding color to the plate, even if it’s only a garnish, can make the simplest food look special. A sprig of mint on a sandwich or a speared strawberry whimsically peaking out of a smoothy can make meals more fun and palatable. Think back to when you were a kid and your mom cut your sandwich in the shape of a star. A little creativity can make meals fun for both of you. And if you have kids in the house, this is a great way to get them involved.
Remember that small portions are best.
It’s discouraging for everyone to see plates coming back to the kitchen that look untouched, but that’s what can happen if you don’t cut back on helpings. Your patient might eat a fraction of what she’d normally consume, so offer small amounts consistently to make things easier and more successful.
No, not booze. Coax the patient you love to drink enough by having lots of beverages on hand. Some people prefer plain water at room temperature, but ginger ale, lemonade, and sparkling beverages can taste good during treatment, too. Staying hydrated is important, so making sure drinks are within reach is a great way to offer care.
Chose paper or plastic — or fingers.
Some cancer patients report a constant metallic taste in their mouths as a side effect from treatment. If that’s the case, finger food might be more appealing than foods that require a spoon or a fork. You can also use plastic silverware. And remember, not all plastic-ware is equal; some options are downright fancy and can be used over and over again.
If food choices you’ve tried don’t resinate with your patient, don’t despair. Over the course of treatment, preferences evolve and change. This is a time to be gentle and forgiving with yourself and everyone going through this battle with you. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so take it one step at a time and celebrate small victories along the way.
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