As a hospice patient or caregiver of a patient, eating a meal which had previously came as second nature, may now be a challenge.  Some hospice patients feel frustrated over issues related to eating. This is normal and there are many things that can be done to optimize nutrition during this time.

At Haven Hospice, a registered dietitian is available to help you with the challenges of maintaining adequate nutrition. Your nurse or other hospice team member can contact the dietitian if you have questions or need assistance.

The Food Pyramid

The Food Guide Pyramid was developed to aid consumers in choosing a healthy diet. It calls for eating a wide variety of foods to obtain the nutrients your body requires each day.

How Much do I Need?

The pyramid lists a suggested range servings for each of the food groups. For example, a daily intake of 2 to 4 servings from the fruit group is recommended. The amount of servings you require each day from the various groups depends on the needs of your body in terms of both energy and nutrients.  These are based on:

  • Your age
  • Your body size
  • Whether you are female or male
  • Your activity level

During Your Illness

You may eat at the lower end of the recommended servings range in some food groups and at the higher end in other groups. While it is recommended to eat between 6 and 11 servings from the bread/cereal group, it is fine if you are eating only 6 servings. Conversely, you may feel a need for greater than the recommended servings from the milk and meat groups.

Those with a life limiting illness often need more nutrients such as calories, protein, and antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables and whole grains contain antioxidants in the form of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant compounds), which are all powerful agents to promote health and healing.

What is a Serving?

The amount of food that counts as a serving is listed in the chart below. If you eat a larger portion, you can count it as more than one serving. For example, a half cup of cooked pasta would count as one serving in the bread/cereal group. If you ate one cup of pasta that would count as two bread/cereal servings.

You do not need measure servings. Use them only as a general guide. For mixed foods, do the best you can to estimate the food group servings of the main ingredients. Eating a helping of beef stew would count in the meat group and the vegetable group.

Food Groups

Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta

1 slice of bread

1 ounce of ready to-eat cereal

1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta


1 cup of raw leafy vegetables

1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw

3/4 cup of vegetable juice


1 medium apple, banana, orange

1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit

3/4 cup of fruit juice

Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese

1 cup of milk or yogurt

1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese

2 ounces of process cheese

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts

2-3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish

1/2 cup of cooked dry beans or 1 egg counts as 1 ounce of lean meat. 2 tablespoons of peanut butter or 1/3 cup of nuts count as 1 ounce of meat.

What About Fats and Sugar?

Perhaps most of your life you have been told that Americans consume too much sugar and fat. In addition, you may be used to watching how much fat, sugar and cholesterol you consume. While being a hospice patient is not a license to consume excess sugar and fat, your condition may require eating more of both in order to provide sufficient calories. High-calorie foods can assist in meeting needs for energy in times of reduced appetite or when the body is requiring additional calories because of disease.

Dietary Suggestions

  • Do not let anyone force you to eat when you are experiencing an aversion to food due to nausea or for any other reason.
  • Eat frequent, small meals rather than three large ones.
  • Add snacks to your daily routine.
  • Eat a protein food such as dairy, eggs, meat, beans and/or nuts with every meal or snack.
  • Eat a “rainbow diet” of fresh produce each day and a variety of colors to provide a complete range of protective nutrients. The various colors of fruits and vegetables reflect the different types of antioxidant (disease-fighting) compounds they contain.
  • Eat slowly in a peaceful environment and chew well.

Additional Information

The Haven Hospice registered dietitian can provide you with handouts regarding various nutritional issues upon request. Let a Haven Hospice team member know if you have any questions, are having problems or need help in any area.

This document was adapted by Verna Groger, RD from a handout written by E. Babbitt, RD.