Eating Well During Lung Cancer Treatment

Last Modified: January 7, 2013


My son is being treated for lung cancer. He is surviving on crackers. I just want to help him eat to keep up his strength. What advice do you have to maybe improve his appetite or make foods that won't make him nauseous, hurt his sore throat from radiation or that he might think tastes good?


Valaree Williams, MS, RD, LDN, Registered Dietician at Penn Medicine responds:

Eating well during treatment can be a challenge, especially with balancing multiple side effects of treatment. To improve appetite, it is recommended to eat small, frequent meals 5-6 times daily on a schedule rather than waiting for hunger to cue eating a meal. Serving small meals will prevent your family member from feeling overwhelmed and even if only a few bites are eaten, a few bites can add up over the day. If appetite remains poor, you could discuss with the physician the option of adding an appetite stimulant medication.

Bland foods (think white foods) are best for nausea; think toast, cereal, ramen noodles, broth, soup, scrambled eggs, yogurt, noodles, rice, plain chicken or fish, tea, ginger ale. Add more variety of foods as nausea improves. Nausea often worsens on an empty stomach; small, frequent meals may help.

For swallowing difficulties due to radiation, keep foods soft and moist. Foods such as casseroles, soups, stews, hot cereals, yogurt, pudding, jello, eggs, chicken salad, milkshakes, ice cream, and popsicles are well tolerated, just to name a few.

Consider adding peanut butter, cream cheese, or jelly to the crackers and trying other starchy foods as these are often well tolerated. High calorie and high protein beverages such as Ensure, Boost, Carnation Instant Breakfast, whole milk, chocolate milk, milkshakes and smoothies can be great for poor appetites, sore throats, and queasy stomachs.

Learn more about nutritional issues on OncoLink.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire transcript from the Focus on Lung Cancer Webchat.