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cooking for chemo patient

Updated on August 1, 2013

Cooking for Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy

When it comes to eating, chemotherapy patients are a special challenge. Here are some ideas for basic dishes you can cook that lend themselves well to variations, are easy to make, and can be either bland or spiced, depending on the patient's preference. When you've read this lens, there are two others that will interest you:

Cooking for Chemo Patient Ii

Cooking for Chemo Patient III

Someone's In the Kitchen

Ideas and Tips

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy will often experience side effects which can include nausea, food aversions, sensitivity to smells, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, strange/metallic tastes as well as mouth sores. Getting enough calories can be difficult. Small, tasty, calorie and protein-rich meals, eaten five or six times a day, are usually recommended. You'll find recipes below for some basic, nutritious meals most patients will be able to tolerate.

If you want to help by cooking for a chemotherapy patient, keep in mind these tips:

* Since the patient's mouth often becomes dry, avoid dishes that are too dry

* To prevent stomach upset, avoid dishes that are fried, too fatty or greasy

* Serve food at room temperature to help avoid smells that can trigger nausea

* Stay away from tomatoes and citrus fruits if the patient develops mouth sores

* No alcohol, which dries the mouth

* If patient suffers diarrhea, avoid milk products, coarse whole grains, most raw fruits and vegetables, spicy foods, caffeine and chocolate; DO INCLUDE low-fiber foods like oatmeal, rice, bananas, mashed potatoes and applesauce.

* If patient suffers constipation, encourage them to drink plenty of liquids, and try to increase the amount of fiber intake.

* Because taste buds can be adversely affected, for many patients, familiar foods may acquire an "odd" or metallic taste. Sucking on a mint or lemon drop before eating may help, as can adding herbs/seasoning to perk up a dish's flavor. Metal utensils might not be tolerated, so offer plastic forks, knives and spoons.

* Another tip that can help: make a mouth rinse by adding 1 teaspoon baking soda to 8 oz. glass of water, mixing to thoroughly combine. Have the patient swish the solution in their mouth, then spit. Repeat several times during the day to refresh the mouth.

* If possible, do the cooking somewhere else and bring the food to the patient's home to avoid "cooking smells" that can trigger nausea. Room temperature or tepid food is usually tolerated better than hot or cold.

* On days when patient has chemo treatment scheduled, avoid cooking favorite dishes as chemo can create strong negative associations.

* Ask the patient what they feel like eating. Don't urge large portions. Sometimes, all they can manage is a bite or two, and that's fine.

* As with any medical condition, CONSULT a health care professional about the chemotherapy patient's dietary needs or restrictions.

If cooking isn't something you can do, and visiting the patient might not always be practical, you can (and should) send greeting cards to let your friend or loved one know they're not alone. Cancer patients often suffer feelings of loneliness and isolation. A greeting card can be a life-line that brightens someone's day. Artist Corrie Kuipers and Nene Adams have teamed up to create a line of cards especially for cancer patients (pediatric patients, too). The images are bright and cheerful; the messages upbeat, positive and heartwarming.

Greeting Cards for Cancer Patients

For more tips and ideas, visit the Cancer Touches Everyone blog.







Recipes for Success


Easy to make, easy to swallow, perfect for breakfast or snack

1 ripe banana, cut into chunks and frozen

1 cup vanilla yogurt

1/3-1/2 cup whole fat milk (depends on how thick you want it)

Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. You'll probably want to start with 1/3 cup milk and add more as necessary.

If vanilla yogurt is too "artificial" tasting, use plain yogurt + a teaspoon real vanilla extract.

Lactose intolerant? Replace yogurt and milk with silken tofu and soy milk + a small spoonful of honey. Or silken tofu + orange juice is a good combination, too.

If the patient thinks the taste is too bland, add an additional 1/3 cup frozen fruit like strawberries or blueberries (or both!)


Creamy rice dish - comforting and delicious

3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

½ cup dry white wine

1 cup Arborio rice (uncooked!)

1 medium onion, peeled and diced finely

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. butter

¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Good pinch of salt and pepper

Put the chicken or vegetable broth into a pot and heat on the stove until boiling, then reduce to a simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter, heating until butter foams. Add onions and sauté over medium heat until translucent (but not brown). Add rice, stirring to coat grains with oil. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon (a metal spoon might break up the rice grains too much) until the rice turns translucent. Reduce heat to low.

Add the white wine, and continue to stir until the wine is absorbed. Add the hot chicken stock, ½ cup at a time. Stir, allowing each ½ cup stock to be absorbed by the rice before the next one is added. This part of the process can take 15-20 minutes.

After all the liquid has been added, and the risotto has become creamy (it should be chewy but fully cooked), remove pan from heat. Add remaining tablespoon butter and Parmesan cheese, then salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 2 portions.

VARIATIONS: Add a handful of thawed frozen peas during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Sauté mushrooms with onions. Top the dish with sliced poached chicken. Add fresh herbs at the end like chives, parsley, dill, chervil, tarragon and basil + a little lemon zest.


Bread's often out, but these lighter-than-air matzo balls might be all right

You can make your own favorite chicken broth or buy low-sodium low-fat chicken broth from the grocery store - it's your choice. You'll need two quarts.

For the matzo balls, you'll need:

1 cup matzo meal (I buy a package of matzos, then whiz up five in the food processor; the matzo meal need not be a fine powder to work in this recipe)

4 whole large eggs

3 tbsp. schmaltz (if you like) or vegetable oil

2 tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

½ cup cold sparkling water (this keeps the texture light)

Pinch salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours (overnight is best).

To make the soup: if you want to add vegetables, chop them finely before adding to broth, but some chemotherapy patients can't tolerate vegetables like celery, so take personal preferences into consideration. Bring broth to a rolling boil. While the broth is boiling, wet your hands and form matzo balls about the size of walnuts. Drop balls into stock. As soon as you're finished making the balls, put a lid on the soup pan and turn down the heat to low. DO NOT LIFT THE LID! Cook twenty-five minutes.

The matzo balls will keep in the broth for a couple of days in the refrigerator. Don't reheat in microwave, though. That will destroy the light and delicate nature of the matzo balls. Reheating on the stove is best.


Easy to chew, many variations possible

1 large egg

6 oz. vanilla yogurt

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup vegetable oil (like sunflower oil)

2 cups all-purpose flour (you can use self-raising; then omit baking powder and salt)

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Beat together egg, yogurt and vanilla extract until blended. Add sugar and oil. When thoroughly combined, add flour, baking powder and salt (or self-raising flour). Mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased baking sheet (you should be able to get 12 cookies on a standard baking sheet). Bake 11-14 minutes. Baking time will depend on your individual oven, but you want the cookies to just be a bit browned around the edges. The top may appear soft and somewhat underbaked. That's okay. You're not looking for crunchy cookies. When done, remove cookies from sheet and cool on rack. Makes 2 dozen.

VARIATIONS: Depending on the patient's preference, you can add chocolate chips, mini chocolate chips, toffee chips, peanut butter chips, shredded coconut, pecans, walnuts, peanuts, or dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, blueberries, cherries.



One of the most craved comfort foods known to man

2 cups whole milk

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons butter

Pinch cayenne pepper

Pinch dried mustard powder

Pinch fresh nutmeg

Pinch white pepper

¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Into a saucepan over medium-low heat, put in butter, milk, flour and cayenne pepper, dried mustard powder, nutmeg and white pepper. Whisk constantly until ingredients are combined, then turn up heat a bit. Keep whisking. When the sauce achieves a gentle simmer (you don't want it to boil, so watch your heat), it should be thick and smooth. Add cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese, and continue to whisk until cheese has melted into the sauce.

To make mac n' cheese, simply cook elbow macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions, then drain and cover with sauce.

On its own, the sauce will keep refrigerated for several days, and is easy to reheat in the microwave (add a little more milk to help loosen the sauce, which will have solidified).

Other cheeses you can use are blue cheese, Gouda, Edam, Monterey jack, Colby. Just be aware that some patients can't tolerate too-strong flavors.


Visit my other lens, Cooking for Chemo Patient 2 (see link below)

Suggested Reading - Try any of these books for more recipes and ideas

Comments welcome, spammers are not.

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    • Flora Crew profile image

      Flora Crew 

      6 years ago from Evanston, Illinois

      Good article. One bit of advice I heard was not to eat your favorite foods or go to your favorite restaurant during chemo because you would have conditioned nausea to them - I ignored the advice but should have followed it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens

      I love it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent lens, great information worth the read. Thanks


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A wonderful Lens. Chemo. treatments throw your taste buds out of the window.This lens is very helpful.

    • MissMinny profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      @coopersmom84: Try looking around for cancer cookbooks - you may not find anything diabetes specific, but I'm sure you'll find recipes you can adapt.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My grandpa has stage 4 cancer and is also a diabetic. I'm needing some recipes to try for him, do you have any suggestions or know of any cookbooks to help me out?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh man could I have used these back when my grandmother was fighting Cancer. Here's to all the great grandma out there.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My sis will like this lens and the food!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      ok good to know

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is a GREAT idea for a lens. I wish my parents had had this info when my dad had cancer. He's fine now, but I remember food was a miserable topic for him. I can't imagine everything tasting like metal and all the other symptoms.

    • earthybirthymum profile image


      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great Lense!

    • fionajean profile image


      8 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks - a friend of mine will have to start chemo soon so I'll be making the matzo balls for her

    • Judy Filarecki profile image

      Judy Filarecki 

      8 years ago from SW Arizona and Northern New York

      Thanks for sharing. My son starts chemo tomorrow so a lot of this information will help. You are blessed

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens, I can see you have put a lot of time to this lens good job. I have some friends and family that have gone thru chemo and it is a lot better then It was years ago. I know it is still really hard to eat anything, or have interest to even think about it.

    • debnet profile image


      9 years ago from England

      Blessed by A Squid Angel ;)

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice job. Wish I'd known about these tips when I had chemo. So thoughtful of you.

    • TheFoodDigest profile image


      9 years ago

      Great post. I will save in case I ever need it. I have survived 3 episodes of cancer but caught them in time so I didn't have to have chemo or radiation. It's been over 12 years now. It's good to know that cancer is curable sometimes from the responses below !!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A great post and very helpful. I try to create awareness on cancer in Africa.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Its really a great post for chemotherapy patients. All suggestion and idea about the food for those patients because in this condition they need enough calories. I think it will be very helpful.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I wish I had this 9 years ago when I had chemo treatments all I could eat was yogurt. Hope

      I never have to do it again. This will be a lot of help to others.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      9 years ago

      Thanks so much for this lens - I am a chemo survivor and finding something to eat was a huge problem. One bit of advice for people who are around chemo patients is to allow them to be in whatever stage they are without judgment. At one time I survived on rootbeer floats for a whole week. At some points I could do the greens, etc. that are so good for chemo patients...and I continue eating that way now.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      happy cooking!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I woke up with this nightmare too but haven't had the courage to write my story thanks for the tips

    • Gamganny profile image


      10 years ago

      Great Lens Cooking for Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. I am a cancer survivor and have not yet gotten my taste back. Foods I used to love, I can't eat anymore. The best food I loved during chemo was my neighbors home made Chicken Soup...

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      10 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Thank you for these great suggestions! I'm gathering information. Lensrolling to my Cancer Warrior lens!

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Wish I would have seen these recipes when I was on chemotherapy. Matter of fact they look great without taking any. Nice Lens.


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