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The New Dinnertime Battle

Rogel Cancer Center dieticians
from left to right: Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., Nancy Burke, R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen, R.D., CSO
the U-M Rogel Cancer Center Nutrition Services team

Check out these healthy summer recipes.

Strategies for eating (and eating well) when you don't want to eat

If you've sat at a table with kids, you've probably said or heard these words of encouragement: "Eat your breakfast, it's the most important meal of the day," "Eat your broccoli, it's good for you," or "You have to at least try something." We know how important eating is to fuel our bodies, and some foods are better than others. We also know that eating may be the last thing on a kid's mind.

When cancer is diagnosed, a new mealtime battle may start -- waged not with kids but with your husband, wife, mom, dad or friend. Depression, stress, lack of appetite, side effects of treatments and other factors can hinder one's desire and ability to eat.

How can you force yourself to eat when you're nauseated, or get a loved one to eat when he or she has no interest?

Eating well and maintaining your weight during cancer treatment may help you:

  • Feel better
  • Keep up your energy and strength
  • Tolerate your treatment better
  • Lower your risk of infection
  • Heal and recover faster

Think of your body like a car: Without gas, the car won't go. Without enough calories and protein to support your daily needs (which are increased during treatment), you'll lose weight and weaken an immune system already busy fighting cancer. Your body will break down muscle mass to make up the calories you aren't eating, leading to fatigue and weakness.


  • Think of food as part of your medication regimen. Set meal times regularly and take time to eat.
  • Eat small, frequent meals and snacks every 3-4 hours, whether you are hungry or not.
  • Nake every bite and sip count. Instead of calorie-free water, choose milk, soy milk, shakes, smoothies or 100% fruit juice.
  • Eat more when you are feeling hungry.
  • Increase your appetite before meals with light exercise such as walking.


  • Eat high-calorie, high-protein foods. Stop using low-calorie, low-fat, lowsugar versions.
  • Eat the higher-calorie, higher-protein foods on your plate first, saving low-calorie, high-fiber (filling) foods such as fruits and vegetables for last.
  • If fruits and vegetables taste good, increase their calorie and protein content with healthy additions like olive oil, cheese, nuts and sauces.
  • Make sure your clinician is aware of your symptoms and their severity. Medication could help.
  • Ask for a referral to see a registered dietitian to review which foods are best tolerated and symptom management strategies to keep you comfortable and eating.

If you are a patient of the U-M Rogel Cancer Center:

Make an appointment for nutritional counseling by calling 877-907-0859.

Other articles to help when you or your loved one has little appetite

Poor Appetite

Food Just Doesn't Taste the Same

Eight Ways to Take Care of Yourself and Your Cancer

    Continue reading the Summer, 2012 issue of Thrive.

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    Thrive Issue: 
    Summer, 2012