Cooking with Cancer



I have a friend whose husband was recently diagnosed with cancer.  It got me thinking and doing some research.  Because it has been on my mind lately, I want to use this week’s column to help share a few tips and some recipes that are recommended for people undergoing chemo treatments.  Of course, this is just a general guide.  You should always check with your doctor if you aren’t sure about whether or not you should be taking something.   Also, the person undergoing treatment will have their tastes change throughout the treatments and something that might be great at the beginning, might not be so good in the middle or towards the end.  So always check to see what they are craving or what might be just not right for them at this time.  

Chemo can leave a person with ‘metal mouth’.  Citrus flavored hard candies, root beer barrels or gum can help cut the metallic taste in the mouth.  Still check with the person though.  If they have mouth sores, some strong flavored mints can cause the mouth even more discomfort.  There are also toothpastes and mouthwash with Biotin that can help.  Plastic silverware can help reduce the metal mouth taste too.  Also, avoid foods that come in cans as it can make the feeling worse.  Lemonade and orange juice can also help, but only if the mouth isn’t sore.  

Food may taste too sweet.  If necessary, dilute juices with water.  Milk or buttermilk is less sweet and gives needed nutrients.  Sports drinks are less sweet and can help replenish too.  If something on the plate seems too sweet, lemon juice or salt, if the salt doesn’t hurt the mouth, can be added.  Depending on what is in the glass, milk or water can be used to dilute it.  Try adding plain yogurt to a milkshake or even powdered coffee.  

If food seems to have no flavor, try adding onion or bacon bits or even ham.  Salt or other spices can be added as long as the spices don’t make the mouth burn.  If sores are already in the mouth, do not add spices or it will be made worse.  Ketchup or BBQ sauce can be added.  Try nuts or cheddar to add flavor.  Extracts such as vanilla or rum are a good way to add additional zest and don’t require much to add zing.  Walmart has a good variety of extracts to try out, but in Tulsa, Reasors has a better selection.  Apple cider vinegar or wine are also great ways to add flavor to a meal, but need to be added when cooking, not once it’s already on the plate.  

If red meat has become intolerable due to the treatments causing it to taste funny, make sure proteins are still obtained in other ways.  Eggs are a great source of protein and easy to fix in a variety of ways.  Beans or peas are also great for different ways to serve.  Peanut butter can be used as a snack or as part of dinner or even dessert.  Fish or chicken are other alternatives that can be used.  Sometimes, meat can be hidden in another dish to make it more palatable.  Spaghetti with meat and sauce or lasagna are both good ways to hide the meat.  Stews and soups are another option.

Nausea is a problem for a lot of people undergoing chemo.  Ginger is great for this.  Using steeped ginger in teas or soups is a great way to incorporate it.  Shaved or powdered fresh ginger can be used to flavor a dish or dessert.  Ginger ale is something that you can buy in the store, but make sure to get Canada Dry.  The other brands have no actual ginger!  

Go with smaller meals which can also help with the nausea.  Appetite loss is a side effect of chemo as well.  Those undergoing treatment still need to eat, but will have a harder time eating a plateful.  Make the meals smaller and full of easy proteins, like tofu and chicken, to make it easier for them to get through the meal.  Five or six small meals throughout the day can be better for cancer patients than two or three bigger meals.  

There are several foods which can be added to the diet that will help the body naturally.   Onion and garlic both are great for boosting the immune system.  Brazil nuts, seafood, oats, and brown rice are all great sources of selenium, which studies have shown is a cancer-fighting mineral.  Broccoli is a cancer-preventing superfood, one that should be eaten regularly.  Blueberries rank number one in terms of their antioxidant power.  Kiwi is a little hand grenade of cancer-fighting antioxidants, including vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and copper. Try rubbing a couple of cut kiwifruit on a low-fat cut of meat as a tenderizer.  When the natural fiber in apples ferments in the colon, it produces chemicals that help fight the formation of cancer cells, according to German research. Other studies have shown that one type of antioxidant found in apples, called procyanidins, triggered a series of cell signals that resulted in cancer cell death.  Healthy monounsaturated fats (like those in avocados and its oil) will help your body better absorb anticancer antioxidants such as lycopene (from, say, tomatoes) and beta-carotene (from carrots, for example).  Sour cherries are an abundant source of quercetin, a flavonoid with anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant activities.  Bioflavonoids, carotenoids, and other cancer-fighting compounds are abundant in cooking greens as well.

So check with the family undergoing treatments.  See what they may want or would like to have.  Check the pantry and make your grocery list.  Then meet me in the kitchen to cook up some comfort food that is easy on the system for those who need it.


Chicken and White Bean Soup

3 cups rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breast, chopped

6 cups low sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

15oz can white beans, rinsed

1 Tbsp of oil

2 stalks of celery, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 onion, diced

Salt and pepper to taste

Shred the meat from the rotisserie chicken, omitting the skin and bones. Sauté the onion, celery and carrots with the oil over medium heat until the onions turn translucent (about 10 minutes). Add the broth and chicken and simmer for another 10 minutes. Then add the chicken and beans and cook for five minutes, season to taste and serve.

Recipe from


Sweet Tamales

1 8oz package dried corn husks 

1¼ cups unsalted sweet cream butter

1 cup sugar

¼ tsp salt, more or less to taste

1½ tsps baking powder

3½ cups dried masa harina for tamales mixed with 2¼ cups hot water

1 cup coconut milk

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2/3 cup medium diced dried pineapple or raisins soaked in 1/3 cup dark rum

Cover husks with very hot water, weight with plate to keep them submerged, and let stand for 30 minutes until they are pliable. Drain them and separate out 24 of the largest and most pliable husks. Pat the chosen husks dry with a paper towel. Set aside.  Meanwhile with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter with the sugar, salt and baking powder until light and fluffy in texture, about 3 minutes. Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions. Add the coconut milk, vanilla bean paste, unsweetened shredded coconut and beat for a minute or so, until a ½ tsp dollop of the batter floats in a cup of cold water. Stir in dried pineapple or raisins.  Set a collapsible vegetable steamer into a large, deep saucepan. Line the rack of the steamer with leftover cornhusks to protect the tamales from direct contact with the steam.  

To make the tamales: Cut twenty-four 8 or 10-inch pieces of string or thin strips of cornhusk. Set aside.  Lay out one of your chosen cornhusks with the tapered end toward you. Spread about a 1/3 cup of the batter, leaving empty at least a 1½ inch on the side nearest you empty and a ¾ inch border along the other sides.  Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together. Fold up the empty 1½ inch section of the husk to form a tightly closed “bottom,” leaving the top open. Secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strings or strips of husk around the tamale. As they’re made, stand the tamales on their folded bottoms in the prepared steamer. Don’t tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer.  Once all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover cornhusks and fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil to keep the tamales from falling down. Cover and cook for about 1¼ hours. Watch carefully that the water doesn’t boil away. To keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary. Tamales are done when the husk peels away from the masa easily. Let tamales stand in the steamer off the heat for a few minutes to firm up.

Recipe adapted from


Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Shake

1 scoop chocolate protein powder

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

¼ cup milk

½ cup honey Greek yogurt

2 ripe bananas

1 Tbsp sugar

½ cup ice cubes

Add all ingredients into the blender and cover.  Activate the blender. If you have frozen ingredients that are not cooperating, use the pulse function and a little finesse to pulse your way into the perfect mixture.  Taste your smoothie and adjust. Is there too much or not enough of a certain ingredient or flavor? Adjust the flavors just like you would do anything else.  Serve in a glass with a straw. Garnish if desired.

Recipe from


Sweet Potato Turkey Burgers

1 medium sweet potato, cut into ¾ inch chunks (about 2 cups)

1 lb lean ground turkey

2 cups medium packed fresh spinach, chopped small

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tsps finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 tsps finely chopped fresh sage

2 tsps finely chopped fresh thyme

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 whole-grain buns or 6 large lettuce leaves

Microwave sweet potato 4-6 minutes or steam 15 minutes until tender.  While sweet potato is cooking, prepare grill and set heat on medium-high. If broiling, set top rack on second rung (at least 6 inches from broiler) and set heat on broil. Prepare large broiler pan with cooking spray.  In large bowl, mash sweet potato. Add turkey, spinach, onion, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper and oil. Mix together and form 6 patties about ½ inch thick.  Grill patties 4-8 minutes on each side or until center is 165°F. If broiling, arrange patties on broiler pan and broil 4-8 minutes on each side or until center is 165°F.  Serve on buns or lettuce leaves as desired.

Recipe from


Crock Pot Chicken Pot Pie

16 oz chicken thigh, skinless

½ cup carrots, peeled and diced

½ cup celery, peeled and diced

1 cup onion, peeled and diced

1 cup Idaho baking potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 bay leaf

16oz chicken broth low sodium

16oz water

1 Tbsp instant flour (also known as "Wondra" Flour)

½ cup frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste

Line slow cooker with crock pot liner.  Turn slow cooker to low.  Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Add carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf.  Add the potato, chicken broth and water.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Add flour and stir until mixed and slightly thickened.  Add the peas.  Check seasoning and add salt, pepper, or other flavoring as desired.  Serve in individual bowls topped with a biscuit. 

Recipe adapted from


Lemon Spice Gazpacho

1 fresh apple, cored and diced

3 medium tomatoes, diced

1 medium cucumber, diced

6 Tbsps fresh squeezed lemon juice

2 Tbsps cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup spring OR filtered water

1 inch of fresh ginger (approximately 1 Tbsp when finely chopped)

1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 handful of fresh basil, washed and lightly towel dried

1 small handful of fresh mint, washed and lightly towel dried

Pinch of cayenne pepper powder

Pink or sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Place all the vegetables and ginger into a food processor and pulse until chopped but not pureed.  Add the spices and pulse for a few seconds until incorporated.  Garnish with some basil leaves and more olive oil. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Recipe from


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