Cooking for cancer patients can be both challenging and rewarding. I have been cooking for cancer patients for over ten years and have learned a lot about the difficulties cancer patients face trying to stay well nourished throughout cancer treatment. I’ve put together some tips based on my experiences that I hope will help others who are cooking for loved ones going through cancer treatment.
- Everyone has different tastebuds. One of the questions I ask cancer patients when I start cooking for them is “What do you like to eat?” Everyone has their favorite foods and preferences. Some people are more open to trying new foods; others have certain foods they are accustomed to. Food will go to waste if you prepare something the cancer patient has no interest in trying.
- Avoid favorite foods two days before and three days after chemotherapy. Some patients develop food aversions to foods they are exposed to right around their chemotherapy treatment if they get sick.
- Tastebuds may change during cancer treatment. This happens often during chemotherapy. For example, foods that have very little salt may taste extremely salty to someone. Ask for feedback and don’t take it personally if the cancer patient doesn’t like what you made. This is not about you. This is about making something the cancer patient can eat.
- Keep portions manageable. Cancer treatment can dull the cancer patient’s appetite. So, they are often advised to eat small meals throughout the day. Staring into the refrigerator with a big vat of chicken noodle soup can be overwhelming and unappetizing. Unfortunately, I’ve seen cases where a well-meaning person’s hard work goes down the drain, literally. Store food in manageable snack/meal-size portions using small containers or small freezer bags. Label the contents and date when the food was prepared. Freeze these individual portions so the cancer patient can pull one out at a time depending on their cravings and appetite.
- Use mineral rich broth as your soup base. One of the first things I do when I’m cooking for cancer patients is make a big pot of Magic Mineral Broth or Bone Broth. This serves as the soup base for any soups I then make for cancer patients. I keep quart-size containers of these broths in my freezer so I can pull them out whenever I’m making soup.
- Enrich foods naturally. Many cancer patients lose weight during treatment, so I have learned to add calories to foods using natural ingredients. For example, I might add coconut oil and/or nut butters to smoothies, or use an extra spoonful or two of extra virgin olive oil or ghee when sautéing vegetables for a soup I’m preparing. If dairy can be tolerated by the cancer patient, heavy cream can be added to pureed soups. Alternatively, coconut milk, high fat nut milk or cream (such as Macadamia Nut Milk or Cashew Cream) can be used.
- Eating with mouth sores and difficulty swallowing. Cancer treatment can cause mouth sores, and in some cases, difficulty chewing and swallowing. In these cases, I’ve learned that getting the right consistency in food can help. For example, smoothies, pureed soups and pureed foods are usually easier for the cancer patient to get down. The consistency should not be too thin (to avoid choking) or too thick (too hard to swallow). If the patient has mouth sores, then I also try to avoid spicy ingredients (e.g., ginger) and acidic ingredients (e.g., tomatoes). In addition, cold or room temperature foods are often easier to eat.
- Eating through nausea. Nausea is one of the biggest hindrances to eating for cancer patients. Although anti-nausea medication can sometimes help, there are some patients that suffer from severe nausea and just can’t seem to eat anything for a period of time. Sipping on nutritious broths throughout the day can help (one cancer patient told me the Magic Mineral Broth I made her was the only thing she could handle when she couldn’t eat anything else). Another cancer patient asked for this Lemongrass Ginger Chicken Broth with fine egg noodles week after week, when she was having trouble keeping food down. Each cancer patient is different so it may take some experimenting to figure out what is most easily tolerated.
Have you cooked or are you cooking for a cancer patient? Please share your experiences and any suggestions you think might be helpful in the comments section.
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Lisa Price says
Nice resource Jeanette! You should think about putting your own recipe book together! We do similar things regarding food as an ally during cancer treatment.
Thanks Lisa – I appreciate your feedback! Something worth considering for sure.
Deanna Segrave-Daly says
What a FANTASTIC resource Jeanette – pinning this.
Thanks Deanna – appreciate your feedback!
Hi Jeanette I’ve recently had a request for oatmeal cookies. Because I don’t want to use sugar in any of his baking, can I substitute with honey or maple syrup? or do those ingredients still count as sugar?
Could I add unsweetened apple sauce or bananas?
He is very weak so I’d like any help you can give me to build him up.
Thank you, Val
Hi Val – honey and maple syrup still count as sugar but are less processed than white sugar. You could try adding mashed bananas which might help bind the cookie dough together while providing a natural sweetener
Hi Val, honey and maple syrup are less processed than white sugar, but still count as sugar. You could try substituting half the sugar with mashed banana. For reference, here is a cookie recipe I made with honey and mashed banana: https://jeanetteshealthyliving.com/quinoa-banana-chocolate-chip-cookies/#wprm-recipe-container-33506
Hi am from Nigeria, currently experiencing this? I have no idea what to do, cause our food is totally different from yours, going crazy
Hi – I am not familiar with Nigerian food/ingredients. You can make a vegetable broth similar to the Magic Mineral Broth using fresh vegetables available (include root vegetables such as yams and carrots). If you have chicken bones or beef bones, you can add that to the soup too. After you make the broth, strain it and use it as a base to make soups. You could make a bean soup or vegetable soup (cook leafy green vegetables in the broth) and purée it using a blender to make it easier to chew and swallow. Spicy and strong flavored foods are often not tolerated by people undergoing cancer treatment, so I try to keep things mild in flavor.