Lack of appetite is a common complaint during a serious illness and it can be distressing to both the person who is ill and the family that surrounds him or her. After all, our family celebrations and holidays are closely intertwined with eating.

We often hear, “If only he would eat, he’d get better.” But when seriously ill, our nutritional needs and appetite change. It is very normal to have a decreased appetite, for foods to lose or change flavor, and to feel full after a few bites.

With the holiday season looming, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Complaints that food have lost their taste: Experiment with different flavors (including flavoring extracts), and aromas. These may increase taste, appetite, and mental attitude.
  2. Some people may develop a dislike for certain strong-tasting meats such as pork or beef but accept fish and poultry. Should a dislike for these foods develop, protein intake may be maintained by using dairy products, eggs, and vegetable sources or protein such as legumes and peanut butter. (Legumes are dry beans, peas and lentils.)
  3. Cured meats (ham, sausage, corned beef, and other lunch meats) may appeal to people with a decreased taste for salt.
  4. Fresh fruits may make ice cream, milk, shakes, puddings, custards and products like Carnation Instant Breakfast more appealing.
  5. Between meals, snacks should be used to add to daily protein and calorie intake.
  6. The diet should be modified in texture and consistency (bland, soft, liquid) according to the person’s needs.
  7. People experiencing loss of appetite and fullness shortly after eating should eat small, frequent meals.
  8. Relatives and friends should be cautioned against the “eat a little more” syndrome and encouraged to create a natural, pleasant atmosphere during meals.
  9. Fruit juices or other high calorie beverages (milk, milk shakes, Instant Breakfast, etc.) can be substituted for coffee, tea, or water. However, water should never be totally discontinued from the diet.
  10. Serve foods at the temperature desired (warm, room temperature, or cold).

Try not to let food become something to fight or worry about. Eating won’t make the illness go away. It’s important to eat small amounts of what you can, when you can, and in between, enjoy the company of your loved ones.