Food for Chemo Patients
Cooking food for chemo patients can seem really tricky. But, I assure you that cooking food for chemo patients really isn’t as hard as you think it is. Here is a list of things that you need to keep in mind before you cook any food for chemo patients.
Cancer treatments don’t just affect the people going through the treatments. A cancer diagnosis affects the family and friends of the person going through them as well. These friends very often want to step up and help their loved one get through such a hard time in their life. Which is great! Very often, this type of support is received in the form of food donations to their loved one with cancer. And while these food donations are very much needed and incredibly helpful, there are a few things to take into consideration before baking your family member or friend a casserole. I have included this information so that you may share it with friends and family that want to help you, but don’t know how. (And haven’t read Cooking for Chemo …and After!) This article condenses all of the previously learned information about Cooking for Chemo into one helpful guide.
Questions to ask BEFORE you start cooking food for chemo patients.
1. Find out what foods the cancer patient is craving.
Ask, “Are there are any foods or specific flavors that are easier for the cancer fighter to eat or are there any foods that get them really excited about eating?”
Cravings are a great thing! They are your body telling your brain how to vocalize the nutrients that your body is lacking. This expresses itself in many different forms from desiring big juicy cheeseburgers to baked beans to chocolate all the way to pickles.
By embracing these cravings and catering to our loved ones preferences, we can help to ensure that they will get the nutrients that they need into them during cancer treatment.
Listen to what information the craving is giving you. A craving for a cheeseburger may indicate a need for fats or protein. So for this person, if they could handle something heavier, I would consider making a shepherd’s pie. Or, if they could only tolerate light flavors, I would create a strawberry and banana smoothie with chocolate protein powder and a touch of peanut butter.
A craving for a salad can be fiber, vitamins, or minerals. For this person, I’d probably cook chicken cacciatore with lots of fully cooked, but fresh veggies! Remember that everybody is different and each craving will be different. Also, keep in mind that you are more likely to eat what you like than eat what you don’t like. So use these cravings to get extra food into your loved one while you can.
2. Find out what foods or smells are making the cancer patient nauseous.
Ask, “Are there any smells or specific foods that have been making you nauseous?”
Nothing will turn a person’s appetite off faster than foods that smell bad to them. An offensive smelling food will dry up someone’s appetite faster than water in the desert. These offensive smells are known as pungent smells. We want to do our best to avoid them. If that is not possible, then we need to mask their smell. Broccoli is a major offender in the war against pungency. It is an incredibly healthy choice. But, often times its incorporation into a dish will make your loved one instantly nauseous from its pungent smell.
If pungent smells cannot be completely avoided, they can be tempered with fragrant herbs and spices, as well as incorporating 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar followed by 1 tablespoon of sugar and cooked into the dish. The vinegar will neutralize the scent and the sugar will cover the taste and smell of the vinegar, but still leave its special Palate Cleansing effects.
3. Remember to take the weight of the food into consideration.
Ask, “What types of foods have you been having the most success with?”
The reason we ask this is because heavier meats like chuck roast tend to be harder on the stomach than simple carbohydrates like rice. But chuck roast has many more calories and protein per ounce than rice does. Depending on your needs, it may be more beneficial to eat the ounce of chuck roast than an ounce of rice, especially if you are having difficulty eating.
You need to know what kind of foods they have been having great success with. Then, you can make an informed decision on what foods to choose to cook for them. Heavier foods tend to lead to nausea where simpler foods do not. Think about when you are sick or have a cold. Soups can be the best tasting thing in the entire world.
4. Make food that is easily re-heated and easy to store.
One of the best things you can do is to bring over pre-cooked and pre-portioned meals that can either be frozen or refrigerated, and reheated quickly in the microwave or oven.
The reason we take this into consideration is that cancer is a time of high stress, high anxiety, and surprisingly tight schedules. Most people would assume that cancer treatment involved a lot of sitting around and recovering. When in fact, it is more likely that you will go to multiple specialists per week and be constantly on the run. Those few times that you do have a break, your body is so exhausted that all you can manage to do is sleep. We want our meals to be easily reheat-able and easily stored so that our loved ones can easily grab small bites of food when they have the energy to eat.
Remember that because many cancer fighters are having difficulty eating, they can only eat small portions. So if possible, make portions no larger than your fist and fill as many reusable containers as needed.
5. Think about texture.
Another great question to ask is about the severity of dry mouth and mouth sores. Ask, “Are there any textures that are hurting your mouth?”
Mouth sores can be extremely painful to the point of where their debilitating effects cannot only break your spirit, but also your ability to get nutritious meals into yourself. If mouth sores are really bad, consider meals that can be eaten at room temperature, like a cold soup. Other things you can do are to make sure you use soft textured food and avoid dishes that are overly spicy.
Food for Chemo Patients
Armed with this information, you can make better choices and become a more effective contributor when you help your family and friends that are going through cancer treatments. Remember, when we cook for a loved one who is going through cancer treatment, we are NOT cooking for our preferences. We are cooking for THEIR preferences.