Tips to Healthy Eating During Cancer Treatment

Angie Lord, RD, is a registered dietitian at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute and Life With Cancer. She is also a registered yoga teacher. Angie enjoys helping patients meet their nutritional needs while receiving cancer treatment and loves learning about patients’ stories and backgrounds during her time with them.

Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics focuses attention on healthful eating through National Nutrition Month®. This year’s theme, “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” embraces global cultures, cuisines and inclusivity. It also highlights the expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists. One of the key messages of the month is to plan your meals and snacks.

Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese general and philosopher, said, “Plan for what is difficult while it easy; do what is great while it is small.” For people undergoing cancer treatment, that couldn’t be more true. Fatigue is often a part of life during treatment, and the process of preparing and eating a meal may seem more like a chore than it has ever been. See below for ways to make getting the nutrition you need easier by planning ahead.

  • Accept help. Grocery shopping can be tiring even on your best days during cancer treatment. Shopping in the mornings, when stores are less busy and you have more energy, can get you in and out in a hurry. Let someone else load and unload your groceries for you if you can, consider grocery delivery. If someone wants to make food for you, let them.
  • Choose easy-to-prepare foods. Foods like frozen dinners, soups, and protein shakes and bars can be easy meals when you don’t feel like making much. In keeping with the “Choose a World of Flavors” National Nutrition Month theme, try multicultural food items from the frozen food aisle like breakfast burritos, pastas, potstickers and samosas.
  • Don’t forget your vegetables and fruits. While side effects of chemo and/or radiation may make eating some raw fruits and vegetables difficult, consider frozen or canned choices instead. Roasting raw vegetables on a sheet pan in the oven is another option to make them easier to digest. (Cover the pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking oil to make cleanup easy.) Smoothies made with raw fruits are often tolerated better than eating raw fruit in its natural state as well.
  • Plan to eat something. During treatment, think ahead and pack snacks so that you don’t go more than 3 to 4 hours without eating if you have doctor’s appointments or treatments. Graham crackers, crackers with peanut butter, granola or protein bars, or dry cereal all make great “to-go” choices.
  • Make the most of the days you feel good. Plan to make some homemade meals prior to treatment and freeze them in individual servings. A Google search for “make-ahead freezer meals” turns up hundreds of recipes. You can easily reheat them on the days you are more tired. 

During National Nutrition Month, and every month, Inova Schar Cancer Institute’s registered dietitian nutritionists are available at all sites to help you modify your diet to support you before, during and after cancer treatment. To speak to a dietitian, ask your physician or nurses for a referral or self-refer by calling 703-206-5433 or emailing  

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