Meal ideas and shopping for the building-up diet

Adding energy and protein to your everyday food helps you to get the most calories and energy out of the food that you eat.

Meal ideas

Here are some ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and pudding if you have lost weight. They show you how to get more protein and energy into your diet, without having to eat more food. We hope these give you some ideas for ways to adapt your usual meals.

Between meals, you can keep up your energy intake with nourishing snacks and drinks.

Breakfast

Here are some suggestions:

  • A fried egg with bacon and a slice of fried bread.
  • Scrambled eggs or an omelette with grated cheese. Add toast with butter, dairy-free spread or ghee.
  • Scrambled tofu with spinach and grilled tomatoes.
  • An English muffin, crumpet or toast with lots of butter or dairy-free spread, and honey, jam, peanut butter or a sliced banana.
  • Stewed fruit, such as prunes, rhubarb, apples or apricots, with Greek or full-fat yoghurt. Dairy-free yoghurt can also be used. You can also add cereal, seeds or nuts.
  • Porridge made with fortified or plant-based milk. Add sugar, honey, toasted seeds, fresh fruit or jam.
  • Yoghurt with nuts, seeds and dried fruit, or dalia (wheat porridge) with butter.
  • Cornmeal porridge and Caribbean hard-dough bread with butter.
  • Minced-beef congee or assorted dumplings. Add some deep-fried peanuts.
  • A whole-wheat cereal such as Weetabix®, cornflakes or bran flakes with fortified milk or coconut milk and sugar.
  • A fruit smoothie with added avocado and full-fat yoghurt.

Lunch

Here are some suggestions:

  • A tuna and cucumber sandwich with butter, mayonnaise or salad cream.
  • Mashed avocado on toast and a bowl of thick vegetable or lentil soup, drizzled with extra olive oil or sprinkled with cheese.
  • A hard-boiled egg sandwich or a chicken sandwich, with mayonnaise.
  • A baked potato with grated cheese. Mash extra butter or dairy-free spread into the inside of the potato. Add baked beans or tuna with mayonnaise or salad cream.
  • A cheese and salad sandwich. Be generous with the filling and add mayonnaise.
  • A warm salad, made with quinoa and sautéed vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, onion, garlic, and tempeh. Add feta cheese or a vegan alternative and drizzle with olive oil.
  • A mixed bean chilli or stew with rice or potatoes, sprinkled with cheddar or vegan cheese.
  • Stuffed paratha or chapati with vegetables or rice, vegetable curry or hard-boiled egg and potato curry. Use ghee, butter or extra oil for cooking.
  • Steamed red mullet with vegetables, topped with some olive oil or butter and served with rice or potatoes.
  • Noodles, plain rice or fried rice with mixed seafood or meat and vegetables.
  • Chicken soup and a hard-boiled egg sandwich.
  • Try having rice pudding or some fruit after lunch too.

Dinner

Here are some suggestions:

  • Lasagne or spaghetti bolognese with cheese. For a vegetarian option, you could use a meat substitute, such as soya mince, Quorn or lentils. Add a side salad with dressing, mayonnaise or salad cream.
  • Grilled salmon or trout, with new potatoes and green beans. Add butter to the vegetables and a white sauce to the fish.
  • Roast chicken with potatoes and fresh vegetables. Add butter to the vegetables and potatoes.
  • Lamb curry with pulses (or use soya mince, Quorn or lentils) and salad. Add coconut milk or cream
  • Khichari (lentils and rice), lentil soup or shorba (lamb and chicken soup).
  • Caribbean chicken with mashed potato, callaloo and sweetcorn. Add butter to the vegetables and butter, cream and cheese to the potatoes.
  • Steamed fish with black bean sauce and plain rice.
  • Shepherd’s pie with carrots and peas (or use soya mince, Quorn or lentils). Use fortified milk and butter in the mashed potato, or grated cheese on top.

Puddings

Here are some suggestions:

  • Stewed fruit with fresh cream or dairy-free yoghurt.
  • Fruit crumble with fresh cream, custard or soya cream.
  • Fruit yoghurt or fromage frais – choose a full-fat variety.
  • Fresh custard – ready-made or made with fresh cream.
  • Fresh fruit such as mango, orange, banana, lychee or pineapple with cream, ice-cream or dairy-free alternative.
  • Fruit or chocolate trifle – choose a full-fat variety.
  • Rice pudding.
  • Microwave or ready-puddings with custard – vegan choices are often available.

Try adding ice cream, cream or evaporated milk to cold puddings. Try adding custard made with fortified milk to hot puddings. You could add sugar or syrup to puddings too. Try making instant desserts with fortified milk or a dairy-free alternative, such as oat cream or nut butters.

You could also try some pudding recipes using different ready-made or powdered supplements. Manufacturers of nutritional products often have recipe booklets. Check the packets or their websites for more information.

Snacks

Keep snacks handy if you feel hungry between meals. For example, you could try:

  • unsalted nuts
  • pasteurised cheese
  • dried fruit
  • biscuits
  • fruit loaf with butter
  • cakes or scones with jam and cream
  • breadsticks and dips
  • full-fat yoghurts or fromage frais
  • a bowl of cereal with milk
  • mini pork pies, quiche or egg-bites.

Think about taking snacks or a nourishing drink, with you if you are out of the house for some time during the day. For example, if you have a radiotherapy appointment.

Drinks

Add energy and protein to coffee, tea or bedtime drinks. You can do this by using fortified or full-fat milk instead of water. Or add 3 teaspoons of a high-energy powder (prescribed by your doctor or dietitian) to hot or cold drinks. Ready-made nutritional supplement drinks can be drunk straight from the packet, gently heated or used in recipes.

If you do not want to eat a meal, you could try a nourishing drink instead. You can also drink these between meals to help you put on weight.

You might want to make your own drinks, such as fruit milkshakes or smoothies. Here are some examples:

  • Fruit smoothie – blend fresh banana, peaches, strawberries or other soft fruit (fresh or frozen) with fortified milk, fruit juice, ice cream, yoghurt or a non-dairy alternative. Add avocado for extra calories.
  • Milk smoothie – blend 200ml of full-fat milk, 2 tablespoons of milk powder, 2 scoops of ice cream and some milkshake syrup or powder. Blend until well-mixed and frothy. You can change the flavour of the ice cream to match the milkshake syrup or powder.
  • Nutritious milkshake – mix fortified milk with puréed fruit or a fruit yoghurt and add 2 to 3 teaspoons of a high-energy powder supplement (prescribed by your GP or dietitian). A scoop of ice cream will add extra energy. Use non-dairy products for a vegan alternative.

Substituting ingredients

Feel free to use different ingredients from those we have suggested.

If you do not eat dairy products, you can replace:

  • milk with soya, oat, rice, hazelnut, almond or coconut milk
  • cream with coconut or soya cream
  • butter with olive oil, rapeseed oil, vegetable or coconut oil, or dairy-free spreads
  • yoghurt with soya or coconut yoghurt.

Spices can help if you have lost some sense of taste or smell and want something with strong flavours. Check the packaging to see how hot or spicy it is. But if highly flavoured foods do not appeal to you, make these dishes milder by swapping ingredients or adding natural yoghurt.

Shopping list

Here is a list of items you might want to stock up on. This list means you have foods available which are high in energy and protein. We have listed foods that last for longer. But you will still need to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables. If you eat meat and fish, you will need to buy these fresh or frozen.

For the cupboard

You might want to buy:

  • porridge or oatmeal
  • sugar, maple syrup, golden syrup or honey
  • bread, paratha, chapatis, naan, pitta, muffins, crumpets or tortillas
  • biscuits and crackers
  • nuts, seeds, Sev or Bombay mix
  • evaporated milk or dried milk powder
  • drinking chocolate or malted drinks
  • fresh, dried, tinned or stewed fruit
  • tinned vegetables
  • peanut butter, jam or marmalade
  • jelly
  • puddings, such as custard, instant desserts or rice pudding
  • oil or ghee
  • gravy
  • mayonnaise or salad cream
  • tins, cartons or packets of soup
  • tins of fish, such as mackerel or sardines.

For the fridge

You might want to buy:

  • full-fat milk or a dairy-free milk such as coconut milk
  • cream or crème fraiche
  • butter or margarine
  • pasteurised cheese
  • eggs
  • full-fat hummus
  • full-fat yoghurt, fromage frais or lassi, or soya or coconut yoghurts
  • ready-made smoothies or milkshakes
  • ready-made puddings, for example, trifle, crème caramel, fruit crumble or steamed puddings
  • ready-made custard.

For the freezer

You might want to buy:

  • ice cream, ice lollies or sorbet
  • kulfi
  • frozen ready meals
  • frozen fruit, such as raspberries, mango or blueberries
  • frozen vegetables, such as peas or vegetable mixes
  • cheese, which you can grate and then freeze.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our building-up diet information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN). ESPEN guidelines on nutrition in cancer patients. February 2017 www.espen.org [accessed Jan 2020] 

    European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN). ESPEN expert group recommendations for action against cancer related malnutrition. June 2017 www.espen.org [accessed Jan 2020] 

    World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). Healthy living after cancer. 2016. www.wcrf-uk.org [accessed Jan 2020]      


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.