Small Meals and Snacks

Author: Allison Roselli
Last Reviewed: December 10, 2018

It can be hard to meet your nutritional needs when receiving cancer treatment. Smaller meals and snacks may be easier to take and may help you cope with side effects from your treatment. 

First, it’s important to know how many calories you need per day.

Use this formula to calculate your daily calorie needs:

  • Divide your weight in pounds (lbs) by 2.2 and multiple by x 30 to equal your calorie needs.Example: 150 lbs ÷2.2 = 68.18 x 30 = 2054 calories 
  • Or use the online calorie calculator

To find the number of calories per meal or snack: 

  • Divide your calorie needs per day by the number of meals and snacks you plan to eat. Example: 2054 calories ÷ 6 meals and snacks = 340 calories each

What should I pay attention to?

Calories

  • Choose calorie dense foods (foods that give you the most calories per serving)
  • Boost your calories by
    • Adding gravy or sauce to meat
    • Adding cheeses to pasta, sandwiches, and veggies
    • Try cream-based sauces and soups 

Fluids

  • Avoid fluids when eating to keep from filling up; instead, drink between your meals
  • Try high calorie drinks like:
    • Chocolate milk or Hot Cocoa with whipped cream
    • Carnation Essentials (formally known as Carnation Instant Breakfast) ®, Boost Plus ® and Ensure Plus ® 
    • Milkshakes and smoothies
    • Fruit juices and nectars
    • Store-bought eggnog *must be pasteurized to avoid foodborne illnesses. 
    • Whole or fortified milk

Protein

  • Try to eat some protein with every meal or snack.
  • Add protein to meals and snacks by:
    • Using nut butters  (peanut butter, cashew butter almond butter)in smoothies, hot cereal, with fruit and as toppings on bread
    • Add vanilla protein drinks instead of milk in cereal, pudding, milkshakes and smoothies. 
    • Eat what you like and when you are hungriest: Breakfast for dinner is a great small meal
    • If you are hungriest in the morning, try to make that your largest meal and have smaller meals later. If you are hungrier at night, start your day with smaller meals and eat larger meals later. 
    • Keep snacks with you when you travel, in your car, in your bag or close at hand.
    • Always practice good food safety habits and never consumer undercooked meats 
    • Half a sandwich with fruit or vegetables
    • Tuna, egg, chicken, tofu salad or hummus with crackers or on pita bread
    • 1 cup of cream-based soup with crackers 
    • 2 eggs, scrambled, hard-boiled or omelet with half a bagel
    • Loaded or twice baked potatoes topped with veggies and meats
    • Breakfast sandwiches, waffles, pancakes 
    • Homemade trail mix
    • Banana & peanut butter
    • Chips with avocado slices, hummus, or guacamole
    • Whole milk pudding with graham crackers or vanilla wafers
    • Yogurt, ice cream, sherbet 
    • Protein bars, or breakfast & snack bars 
    • Muffins, pastries, and cookies
    • Hot or cold cereals with fruit, bran flakes, flax seeds

Tips for Eating Small Meals and Snacks

  • Eat what you like and when you are hungriest: Breakfast for dinner is a great small meal
  • If you are hungriest in the morning, try to make that your largest meal and have smaller meals later. If you are hungrier at night, start your day with smaller meals and eat larger meals later. 
  • Keep snacks with you when you travel, in your car, in your bag or close at hand.
  • Always practice good food safety habits and never consumer undercooked meats 

Examples of Small Meals

  • Half a sandwich with fruit or vegetables
  • Tuna, egg, chicken, tofu salad or hummus with crackers or on pita bread
  • 1 cup of cream-based soup with crackers 
  • 2 eggs, scrambled, hard-boiled or omelet with half a bagel
  • Loaded or twice baked potatoes topped with veggies and meats
  • Breakfast sandwiches, waffles, pancakes 

Examples of Small Snacks

  • Homemade trail mix
  • Banana & peanut butter
  • Chips with avocado slices, hummus, or guacamole
  • Whole milk pudding with graham crackers or vanilla wafers
  • Yogurt, ice cream, sherbet 
  • Protein bars, or breakfast & snack bars 
  • Muffins, pastries, and cookies
  • Hot or cold cereals with fruit, bran flakes, flax seeds

Sample Meal Plans to Try (mix and match)

Day 1 

Meal 1: 2 eggs on an English muffin with cheese | 325 calories with 16 grams of protein 

Meal 2: 1 Boost Plus® |360 calories with 14 grams of protein 

Meal 3:  ½ Cup of Macaroni and Cheese | 225 calories with 10 grams of protein

Meal 4: 1 Cup of Ice Cream | 225 calories with 4.6 grams of protein

Meal 5: 1 cup of cream of chicken soup with 6 crackers | 325 calories and 6 grams of protein

Meal 6: 1 cup of cold cereal with vanilla Carnation Essentials® or whole milk | 460 calories and 24 grams of protein 

Day 2

Meal 1: ½ of a bagel with ½ and avocado and 1 egg | 325 calories and 16 grams of protein

Meal 2: fruit cup with ½ a cup of full-fat cottage cheese | 285 calories with 12 grams of protein

Meal 3: ½ of a turkey and cheese sandwich | 210 calories with 13 grams of protein 

Meal 4: 1 hard boiled egg with 6 crackers and 1 ounce of cheese | 290 calories with 13 grams of protein

Meal 5: 2 frozen pancakes or waffles with ½ a cup of fruit and cream | 315 calories with 5 to 6 grams of protein 

Meal 6: 1 cup of rice pudding | 340 calories with 10 grams of protein 

Day 3

Meal 1: 1 cup of hot cereal and a ½ cup of fruit | 325 calories with 6 grams of protein

Meal 2:  1 protein bar and a glass of whole milk | 365 calories with 8 grams of protein

Meal 3: 2 oz of chicken and gravy with rice and mixed vegetables | 400 calories with 15 grams of protein

Meal 4: 2 tablespoons of hummus and pita slices or with fresh cut vegetables | 370 calories with 13 grams of protein

Meal 5: 1 medium baked potato with toppings (cheese, broccoli, chili) | 290 calories with 13 grams of protein

Meal 6: 1 cup of a fruit smoothie | 367 calories with 6 grams of protein 

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