Caring for someone with eating problems

If you’re the main carer for someone with cancer, it can be upsetting and difficult to know how to deal with the eating problems their cancer or treatments have caused. Mealtimes are often an enjoyable and important part of family and social life. It can be frustrating and worrying when someone you’re caring for can’t eat very much.

People who are very ill often don’t feel like eating. Cancer, treatments and medicines can all affect their appetite. Feeling sick and having diarrhoea or constipation can stop them eating. They may feel too tired to eat, have a sore or dry throat or mouth, or find chewing and swallowing difficult. The amount they can eat may change from day to day and their likes and dislikes may also alter.

Suggestions for carers about coping with food preparation and mealtimes:

  • Take time to ask them what they’d like to eat.
  • Try to talk openly about their eating problems and the different ways you could both manage it. This can help you both feel more in control of the situation.
  • Try to give small meals often, whenever the person feels like eating, rather than at set times of the day.
  • Treat them to their favourite foods at the times when you know their appetite is at its best.
  • Keep a range of different foods so that you can offer them something at any time of the day. Tinned foods and pre-prepared frozen meals can be as good for them as a meal that takes a long time to prepare.
  • If they can’t manage solid food, try soft foods such as porridge, bananas, soup, yoghurt or milk-based foods like custard or rice pudding.
  • Moist food is often easier to cope with, and will help to prevent a dry mouth.
  • If someone’s sense of taste or smell has changed, it can sometimes help to serve food cold or at room temperature.
  • Use plastic cutlery if the person affected by cancer notices a metallic taste in their mouth.
  • If the person you’re caring for finds that certain cooking smells make them feel sick, prepare food in a different room if possible. Serve food in a well-ventilated room.
  • Be aware of how energy supplements can be used to add energy to everyday meals and drinks. For example, you could try adding fortified milk to tea or coffee (see our information on the building-up diet).
  • Try not to worry if they can’t always eat what you’ve cooked. And don’t urge or nag them much, as this can be unhelpful.
  • Take special care while preparing food when the person you care for may be at risk of infections. The doctors or dietitian at the hospital will be able to advise you about this.
  • Make sure you have support and take time to care for yourself.