Navigating the Holidays Through Nutrition


The holidays are just around the corner, and with that, we often find ourselves out of our normal routines. We may be away from work, traveling or spending time with families, friends and copious amounts of food. For many patients undergoing active cancer treatment, their appetites and how they feel may not be the same compared to previous holidays.  This can be challenging at times so here are some tips to help navigate the holiday festivities while staying well nourished, hydrated and energized.

If you are traveling:

  • Plan in advance! Call ahead to friends or family members to find out what types of foods or meals they plan on preparing. If these foods do not sound appealing or appropriate for you, inquire if you can bring your own food/meals.
  • Pack snacks and supplies before leaving home. There is nothing worse than getting stuck in a car or at the airport with no food/drink options. Bring shelf-stable snacks to avoid long periods of time without eating. Some examples include peanut butter and crackers, a banana or apple with peanut butter/ almond butter, trail mix, mixed nuts and granola bars. Be sure to also pack plenty of hydrating fluids as well.
  • For patients with a feeding tube, bring all necessary tube feeding formula and supplies when traveling. As we all know, plans can change unexpectedly, its best to be prepared with an extra day or two worth of formula and supplies just in case the return trip home is a bit delayed.

If your appetite has decreased:

  • Use a smaller, dessert-sized plate when choosing your foods at a holiday meal. Seeing a large volume of food when your appetite is poor can be overwhelming. Likewise, seeing tiny portions of food on a large plate can also feel defeating. A smaller plate helps to avoid a lot of empty spaces.
  • Include a source of protein with your meals. Sources of protein frequently seen at holiday gatherings include turkey, fish/seafood, pork, deviled eggs, and mixed nuts. A glass of milk, serving of yogurt, or a side of beans/lentils can also make for great protein rich options.
  • Consume smaller, snack-sized meals throughout the day to provide additional opportunities to take in calories, protein and better maintain energy levels.

If you feel nauseous:

  • Avoid greasy, fried or spicy foods. Choose small portions of food items that are plainly seasoned and lean. If the smell of food is also nauseating, opt for cooler or room-temperature foods as they tend to have fewer odors. You may also want to remove yourself from the kitchen while food is being prepared if this upsets your stomach.
  • Stay hydrated. Consume small sips of hydrating fluids frequently throughout the day and during gatherings. Herbal teas, seltzer/sparkling waters, and broth-based soups are also great as a hydrating alternative to plain water.
  • Peppermint, both delicious and perfect for the holiday season, is helpful to relieve nausea. Take a few peppermints to a holiday party, grab a candy cane, or sip a cup of peppermint tea to help settle your stomach.
  • Try some ginger! There is evidence that suggests ginger can help to decrease nausea and vomiting. Consider sipping on some ginger tea, ginger ale, or use ginger (fresh or powdered) to season foods.

If you’re fatigued:

  • Be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
  • Include physical activity in your holiday as safely able. Physical activity can be helpful to increase energy levels, promote an appetite, aid in tension relief and improve sleep. This does not necessarily mean going to the gym. This could include activities around the house, walking through a shopping mall or grocery store, taking laps through the airport terminal or parking a little further away. There are many possibilities, get creative!
  • Allow yourself time of rest.

For additional nutrition tips, visit OncoLink’s nutrition during and after cancer treatment section. Best wishes for happy holidays and a wonderful New Year!


Lauren Clanet, RD, CSO, LDN, is a clinical dietician specialist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine. She has more than 5 years of experience working exclusively with oncology patients. She is board certified as a specialist in oncology nutrition.  She has worked with a variety of oncology patients, providing counseling on symptom management through diet, cancer protective nutrition and alternative nutrition support.