How To Cook For A Cancer Patient With Altered Taste

Treatment can leave patients facing difficulties with producing saliva, swallowing foods, or a dramatic change in taste. Despite these difficulties, Chef Ryan Callahan provides simple solutions for putting together meals for cancer patients.

Someone recently asked me to come up with cooking ideas to help their husband, with head and neck cancer, eat meals. He has had radiation, chemo, and all of his teeth removed. Between swallowing issues, no teeth, altered taste, and no saliva, cooking for him seems like an overwhelming task but the great news is we can fix this! What I would recommend are the following: soups, smoothies, and a special category that I don't really touch on in my book but will teach you here very quickly. It is called a Puree.

A puree is exactly what it sounds like. It is a fully cooked dish introduced to a blender and liquefied. The big key difference between a puree and baby food is adult flavoring. Follow the Roundness of Flavor and Palate Cleansing techniques in my book and you should have absolutely no trouble with this.

Below you'll find my 3 reasons why purees are great for cancer patients.

1. Purees taste exactly like whatever you make them out of.

      Let's use baked potato soup for an example. You would make the baked potato soup as normal (which would normally be filled with big chunks of potato, bacon, and a hearty cream sauce). At this point, what you would do is either use an immersion blender and puree the food inside of the pot (like a marinara) or you remove some of the soup from the pot, add it to an external blender and blend from there.

2. You can alter the consistency of a puree.

      Another great thing about purees is controlling consistency (See my hummus and baba ganoush recipes in my book.) If the person you are cooking for is getting a bit of dry mouth, we can always add excess liquid to the puree to make it more runny. The trick to this though is not to lose flavor while you are watering it down.
      My advice on that would be to use the following ingredients to stretch out and moisten the recipe: chicken broth, cream or whole milk, and other flavorful fluids that are similar to what you are preparing. Always exchange like for like. IE: milk for cream, chicken broth for water, tomato sauce for tomato juice etc. Reading my book (Cooking for Chemo...and After!) will help this make a lot more sense because you will learn how to properly season the food before you puree so it will still taste delicious and help you to combat the other treatment side-effects.

3. Purees can be served hot or cold.

      Gazpacho is a perfect example of a cold puree. Purees were actually a very fancy way of preparing soups and side dishes in the early 1900's. The act of pulverizing a food product was thought to make digestion easier since it did not require any chewing, but still maintained all of its nutritional value and fiber. There are tons of classical recipes for purees. You just might have to do some digging to find some ones that you like.

One last thing to remember: make sure you have plenty of fluids going into the person you are cooking for, because you want to absolutely avoid dehydration at all cost. Believe it or not, water is actually not very good at re-hydrating and will tend to taste terrible while on chemotherapy. Look to lemon/lime sports drinks, fruit juices that they enjoy (especially the more citrus-y ones), broths, and last but not least do not discredit meal replacement smoothies as an excellent way of sneaking in a few extra vitamins as needed.

I hope this helps. Feel free to write me with any more questions.

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