Cancer treatment, recipes and snacks

It is often difficult to eat well when you don’t feel like shopping for food or cooking because you are tired or unwell. You may miss meals while having treatment or waiting for appointments.

The following meal and snack ideas may not all seem like healthy choices, but if you have a poor appetite it’s important to boost your intake of food and focus on high protein and energy foods and fluids.

Meal and snack ideas

  • baked beans on toast with grated cheese
  • fried fish (bought prepared) or fish fingers with chips and salad
  • canned creamy soup made with milk, served with buttered toast
  • grilled lamb cutlets, mashed potato with margarine or butter, and peas and carrots
  • crumpets or muffins toasted with cheese, and some fruit 
  • a sandwich and a glass of high–protein milk with Aktavite, Milo or Horlicks
  • pasta with cheese or a ready–made sauce
  • salmon, tuna or egg with salad and mayonnaise, served with a buttered bread roll
  • occasionally takeaway food such as barbecue chicken, a hamburger, pizza or doner kebab (ensure the food is fresh and hasn’t been kept at a warm temperature for a long time)
  • scrambled or poached egg on toast and a glass of orange juice
  • tuna or sardines on buttered toast with fresh tomato
  • a ham and cheese omelette with salad and buttered bread
  • toast with cheese or peanut butter, followed by sliced banana and yoghurt
  • frozen prepared casseroles, desserts and soups that can be defrosted in portions and eaten on days you don’t feel like cooking
  • cheese and crackers
  • celery and cream cheese or peanut butter
  • cheese or peanut butter on toast or bread
  •  hard–boiled eggs
  • dried fruit and nuts
  • jaffles and sandwiches – good fillings are peanut butter, cheese, avocado, egg and mayonnaise, cold meats, salmon and tuna
  • milk puddings, such as creamed rice, custard, mousse and instant puddings
  • leftover foods from the previous day – make sure foods are properly reheated
  • fruit cake, muesli and health food bars, sweet biscuits, cakes and slices
  • fresh or tinned fruit with custard, yoghurt, jelly, ice cream or cream
  • creamy soup
  • hot chips
  • instant noodles
  • potato crisps or corn chips with dips
  • buttered pikelets, scones, muffins, fruit buns, finger buns and raisin toast
  • yoghurt or ice cream
  • milkshakes
  • food-type nutritional supplements

Stewed fruit with custard

  • 3–4 pcs seasonal fruit (e.g. pears, apples, plums), peeled, cored, chopped
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup full cream custard or ice cream (or 2 tbsp cream)

Place fruit and orange juice in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook for about 20–30 minutes, stirring occasionally until fruits soften (the length of time will depend on how hard the fruits are). Serve with some full cream custard, ice cream or cream.

Cheesy vegetable bake

  • 200g sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 200g pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup thickened cream
  • ½ cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush a medium ovenproof dish with oil. Layer the sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip, carrot and potatoes in the prepared dish. Drizzle each layer with a small amount of cream. Top with the remaining cream and sprinkle on the grated cheese. Bake in the oven for around 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and the vegetables are tender.

Scrambled eggs

  • 2 large eggs
  • 30ml cream
  • 1 tsp chives or other herbs (fresh)
  • Butter
  • Two slices of bread, toasted

Crack eggs into a bowl and add cream and chives. Whisk with a fork until combined. Heat a pan over medium heat and add a small amount of butter. Cook the eggs for 1 minute, stirring as you do so that they cook through. Butter the two slices of bread and serve the eggs on top.

Swedish meatballs

  • 500g minced topside steak
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1½ cup water

Mix mince, breadcrumbs, egg and seasoning with a fork until well blended and then form into balls (golf ball size). Brown in the margarine. Remove meatballs from pan. Make a thick gravy with the drippings, flour and water. Return the meatballs to the gravy and simmer for 1 to 1½ hours until tender. Add herbs or spices to the meat mixture to taste. May be frozen raw or cooked

Nourishing drinks

Fluids are an essential part of any diet. They allow you to stay hydrated and help your kidneys function. As a general guide, you should aim for at least eight to twelve glasses (2–3 litres) of fluid per day. The quantity of fluid you need may vary depending on your type of treatment. Your doctor or dietitian will give you guidelines about how much fluid you should drink per day.

As well as drinking water you can get fluid from soups, milkshakes or smoothies, fruit juices, fruit or ice cubes. For more information speak to your dietitian.

Nourishing drinks are drinks high in protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. These fluids include ready–to–drink commercial supplements, as well as nourishing drinks you can make at home.

Use these drinks when:

  • You are underweight or losing weight – to assist with weight gain or weight maintenance
  • Your overall food intake is decreased due to poor appetite or nausea
  • You are relying mainly on a fluid diet.

These drinks can be used to replace fluids such as water, tea, coffee, bonox, soft drinks and cordials, which are generally a poor source of nutrients. Milk is a common base for nourishing drinks, as it is a high protein and energy fluid itself. Full cream milk has more energy than low fat milk and so is preferable to use at this time.

If you are lactose intolerant, then milk may give you diarrhoea. Lactose intolerance may also occur as a result of some types of cancer treatment. In this situation ordinary milk can be substituted with low lactose milks. Speak to your dietitian who can advise you about what lactose–free supplements are available, and for advice about making alternative recipes.

Classic milkshake

  • 1 cup milk or soy milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp milk powder, or recommended quantity of ‘Sustagen Hospital’ or ‘Ensure Powder’ or ‘Fortisip Powder’ or ‘Enprocal Powder’ or ‘Proform’ (refer instructions on packaging)
  • 1 scoop ice cream

Flavouring as desired, e.g. chocolate, strawberry, coffee, vanilla. Place all ingredients in a blender or milkshake maker and blend until smooth. Serve chilled.

Smoothie

  • 1 cup milk or soy milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp milk powder or recommended quantity of ‘Sustagen hospital formula’ or ‘Ensure Hospital’ or ‘Ensure Essential’ (refer instructions on packaging)
  • 1 ripe banana or cup tinned or frozen fruit
  • 1 scoop ice cream
  • 1 tsp honey (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

Enriched milk

  • 1 litre full cream milk
  • 4 or more tbsp of milk powder (increases nutrients)

Thoroughly mix ingredients until powder is blended. Enriched milk can be used on its own or in milkshakes, smoothies, soups, cereal and desserts.

Apricot lemon crush

  • 425 g can of apricot halves in natural fruit juice
  • 1 cup natural yoghurt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp wheatgerm
  • crushed ice

Blend ingredients together.

Soups

Soups can be easy to eat, easy to digest and nourishing. Clear soups may stimulate the appetite and can provide extra fluid but be careful not to include clear soups in the diet on a regular basis as these will provide extra fluid but little nourishment (i.e. protein or energy). Be sure to add meat, legumes, cereals (rice, pasta, noodles) and cream, butter, margarine and oil to boost energy and/or protein content. Try adding nutmeg, ground cumin or curry powder to vary the taste of soups.

Soup can be pureed or blended for people not able to swallow pieces of food, or strained and only the broth served. Thicker soups can be made with added puréed vegetables, cream, egg yolk, fortified milk or arrowroot. If a puréed soup is too thick add a little more milk.

Foundation broth

  • 250g meat (any cut)
  • 1 stalk celery
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp chopped parsley
  • 1 carrot
  • 30g cereal (sago, rice or pearl barley)
  • 600 mls water

Debone if necessary, remove fat and cut meat into small pieces. Soak meat and bones in cold water for ½ hour. Then bring slowly to the boil. Wash cereal and add as soon as soup is boiling. Simmer for 1 hour. Prepare and dice vegetables into small pieces. Add and simmer for ½ hour before serving. Remove bones and season to taste.

Creamy potato and leek soup

  • 1–2 tsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • ½ cup cream

Cook leek in a large saucepan with oil until soft. Add cumin seeds and cook for a further two minutes. Add potato and stock to the pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25–30 minutes until potatoes are tender. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in the cream and serve.

Vegetable soup

  • 1 tbsp margarine
  • 3 cups diced vegetables
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 3 cups water
  • 300g can butter beans
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup rice

Melt margarine and sauté vegetables for 5 minutes. Add flour and stir. Add crumbled stock cubes, water, tomato paste and butter beans. Simmer until vegetables are tender. Blend the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in milk and cream. Add in rice and heat for 15–20 minutes until rice is cooked.

Marinades

Marinating helps to tenderise, add flavour or change the taste of meat or tofu. The following marinades are enough for four serves of beef, pork, chicken, lamb or tofu. For best results, marinate the meat or tofu in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight. Drain the marinades before cooking to prevent stewing and splattering. When using a marinade that contains honey or sugar, cook the meat on a lower heat than usual to stop the marinade charring.

Asian marinade

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry
  • 1 tbsp honey

Honey mint marinade

  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • ½–1 tsp minced chilli
  • 1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
  • 2 tsp honey

Red wine marinade

  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
This information was last reviewed in June 2013

This information has been reviewed by: Jenelle Loeliger, Head – Nutrition Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kate Aigner, Cancer Information Consultant, Cancer Council Helpline ACT; Ian Anderson, Consumer; Anna Boltong, PhD Candidate (Dietitian), Department of Cancer Experiences Research, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Bridget Kehoe, Public Health Coordinator (Nutrition and Physical Activity), Cancer Council QLD; Steve Pratt, Nutrition and Physical Activity Manager, Cancer Council WA; and Roswitha Stegmann, Helpline Nurse, Cancer Council WA.

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