Tips for healthy eating


There are many steps between knowing what foods are good to eat and actually having a healthy meal. It may seem hard to find healthy foods that you like, plan, shop, and prepare meals. On top of this, treatments may affect your sense of taste, making it harder for you to find foods you enjoy. Fatigue can leave you without the energy to shop and cook and nausea may take away your appetite.

It’s important to remember that you should do what you can to build a better diet, but you should focus on coping with treatment and its side effects first. Below are some tips on how to shop for healthy foods and prepare them when you are dealing with side effects of breast cancer treatment. Small changes can make a difference, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do everything right now.


Build a menu for you

  • Make a list of the foods that you like and don’t like and look for recipes based on these ingredients. If you’re using the internet, add the term “simple” to your search for new ideas to get easy-to-make options.
  • Use your slow cooker. It’s easy to throw in some items and this method can add a lot of flavor to your meals with very little extra effort.
  • Think simple. Rather than try to cook something that requires a lot of preparation, try to find things that you can get onto your plate easily.

Keeping things simple can also take some pressure off if treatment causes a temporary decrease in appetite. “During the season(s) of treatment when you don’t feel like eating, having something to eat is better than having nothing to eat, even if that something isn’t the ‘healthiest,’” says Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition.


Buy for the long haul

Fresh foods are great when you can get them, but you have to consider cost, season and shelf life when buying them. Fresh vegetables that are out of season can be more expensive than those being harvested right now. And most fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy will go bad within a week or two if you don’t use them up right away.

If you have trouble finding the energy to go food shopping, or you are too tired or busy some weeks to use fresh foods before they spoil, you may be better off buying frozen or canned foods that you can keep until you need them. Many canned and frozen foods can be kept for several months without expiring.

Remember to check canned and frozen foods for added ingredients. Canned fruits, for example, are healthier if they come in their own juice without added sugar, and frozen vegetables are healthier if they are frozen plain, without added sauces. You can prepare the vegetables how you want at home and you will control what spices or sauces go on them.

Use your senses when dealing with bread, milk and other foods that go bad in a short amount of time. Most foods are still OK past the sell-by date printed on the label, but if milk starts to smell or you see mold on bread it is time to throw it out. When you’re at the store, look through the products you’re buying to find one with a later sell-by date so you have more time to use it up.

Buy only what you know you will use. Buying in bulk is only a deal when you use the whole container. If there is an item you often throw out because it goes bad before you can finish it, consider buying a smaller package. Plan ahead to know what you will need, and how much, before you go to the store.


What to buy

For savings

If you plan your meals ahead of time you can find simple ways to make them healthier or less expensive. To make your dollar go farther, rice and pasta are less expensive grains that go with a variety of different meals. For protein many people think of meat, but eggs and beans are also good sources of protein and are cheaper than most cuts of meat.

For health

If you are looking for healthier options you don’t have to go to a new boutique grocery, there are simple ways to make your shopping list healthier at your local grocery store.

  • Use cuts of meat or ground beef that are at least 90 percent lean.
  • When buying canned vegetables or soups, choose one that says “low sodium.”
  • Many common grain products can be bought as whole grains: brown rice, bread, even pasta comes in whole grain.
  • Shop the front, back and side aisles of your store; these are typically where the whole, fresh foods and healthier items are.

Plan ahead

Making a plan before you go to the grocery store can help you make better decisions and save money. Start with planning out some meals. What would you like to make this week? You may need bread and cold cuts for lunch, ground beef for meat loaf, spinach and eggs for omelets, etc. Write down everything you need. Then, check your cabinets. What do you have already and what do you need to buy? It can be frustrating to find you bought something you already had, or forget to buy something you need.

Once you have your shopping list together, check the weekly ad for sales and coupons. You could even look at the ad first to plan meals based on what is on sale. Your grocery store ad might come in the daily newspaper or come with your mail once a week. If you don’t get the paper, many stores have their circulars available online. Look for items you can get on sale if you buy a particular brand, and think of ways to make your list healthier: buying the lean ground beef, for example, or getting whole wheat bread.

Once you are in the store, try not to stray from your list and stay away from the snack aisles. If you want snacks, plan for them and add them to the list before you go. Apply some of the same questions you think about for meals. Do you need a brand name if it is more expensive? Can you get almonds to snack on between meals instead of potato chips?

Go into the store knowing exactly what you need and stick to it. Adding sugary snacks or other impulse buys can drive your bill up.


Ask for help

Making healthy food choices is hard any time, but breast cancer treatment makes it even more difficult. Between doctor’s appointments, work and family responsibilities it may be more hectic than usual and side effects like fatigue and nausea may make it hard for you to get to the store. Just changing your diet may seem like a lot of work, not to mention preparing fresh meals!

If you have had a lot of people ask, “What can I do to help?” this may be a good way for them to do so. Send them to the supermarket when you are too tired, or ask if they can help by cooking up a meal or a few for you. It could be as simple as asking them to make enough to set aside a plate for you when they make their own dinner, or you can get together for a dinner party.

A pot luck may be a fun idea for a party and a way to get some prepared dishes you can reheat for a few days. Each person cooks one part of a meal and brings it to the party. Partygoers get to try all the different kinds of food. Tell them why you are holding it and have everyone make enough food for everyone at the party to try and an extra couple servings for you to keep.

Call around to local churches or charities or speak to a navigator or social worker at your treatment center. Many places have organizations that provide and deliver nutritious meals to people in treatment for serious diseases. Ask around to find if any charities in your area have a similar program or can direct you to one.


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Reviewed and updated: June 4, 2024

Reviewed by: Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN


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