5 Quick Tips For Cooking for a Cancer Patient During the Holidays

One of the best parts about the holiday season is the food, but many cancer patients can't enjoy it the way they used to. With Thanksgiving and all other holidays around the corner, Chef Ryan Callahan, who served as primary caregiver for his mother, shares some cooking tips for anyone who is cooking for someone going through chemo.

The holiday season can be difficult for someone who is dealing with a cancer diagnosis for many reasons - change in taste buds, lack of appetite, metallic taste, nausea, mouth sores, etc. This can cause the joy of eating holiday meals to disappear. So with Thanksgiving around the corner, I decided to put together a few tips to help any caregivers who are cooking for someone going through chemotherapy. These tips will help you combat and overcome those nasty chemotherapy side-effects.

1) Cook everything to the proper temperature.

      People going through chemo have suppressed/weakened immune systems. This means a little bit of bacteria that would normally give the average person a little bit of gas, can turn into food poisoning and several days of bed rest for someone going through chemotherapy. Remember to reference the USDA proper cooking temperatures guide and use a thermometer when cooking. Most importantly, avoid cross-contamination by continually washing your hands and sanitizing your surfaces when switching tasks.

2) Don't skimp on the seasoning.

      As chemo patients have weaker taste buds than some of your other guests, make sure you keep them in mind when you are seasoning. An important tip to remember when you are preparing a whole turkey or ham is the seasonings that you apply to the outside, are the only seasonings you will be applying to the entirety of the dish. In this scenario, it's OK to slightly over season to make sure that the flavors work their way through the turkey or ham.

      Another important thing to remember when seasoning a whole turkey or ham is that most seasonings are water soluble not fat soluble. What this means for cooking is that a majority of flavor from seasonings will end up no deeper than 2 millimeters into the meat and the rest of the flavor will end up in the drippings. Salt is the big exception to this rule. Salt will naturally work itself through the meat through the process of osmosis. So if possible, salt rub your turkey or brine it the night before cooking. Last point, don't throw away the pan drippings! This is where your best flavor for making gravy, soups, or stocks will be.

3) Serve smaller portions.

      As I have shown in my book, nausea is one of the main side-effects of chemotherapy, and eating large portions can be a cause of nausea. Serve the cancer patinet at your table their meal on a small plate, so that the portions don't seem as small as they are. Also, make sure to offer take home doggy bags so that your loved one can eat your large holiday meal over several days.

4) Provide plenty of hydrating fluids.

      Dehydration can lead to an infinite amount of problems such as: nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, fainting, vertigo, and so many other terrible things. Holiday meals tend to be very salty so drinking enough hydrating fluids to compensate is essential. Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of fluids to keep the body hydrated and to avoid any unpleasant side-effects during the holiday season.

5) Remember, a little bit of vinegar goes a long way.

      The weight of a dish can prevent a chemotherapy patient from being able eat. Palate cleansing is one of my key techniques to be able to successfully cook for chemotherapy patients. Using a little bit of red wine vinegar in your sauce, gravy, and casserole dishes will lighten the flavor and weight of a dish, as well as combat the metallic taste. This will give it a light, crisp, clean, finish that will allow you or your loved one to be able to eat. And remember that sugar always follows vinegar.

Hopefully these tips will help you and your loved ones enjoy your food during the holiday season. Most of all, remind the cancer patient at your holiday table that the holidays are about much more than the food. What's important is being with loved one and enjoying each others company.

For chemo-friendly holiday recipes, you can visit our website: www.cookingforchemo.org

Do you have any holiday recipes or cooking tips of your own? Share yours in the comments below!

Related Blog Posts:

Related Discussion Questions:

(Image courtesy of the DepositPhotos)