Holiday Foods for Cancer Patients and Their Families

A holiday meal featuring sliced turkey on a green plate with gravy in a white gravy boat. A bowl of mashed potatoes, a plate of roast vegetables, a glass of water and glasses of red wine are also seen. Gold ribbons and stars decorate the place setting.

Cancers like mesothelioma often affect a patient’s appetite and ability to keep their body nourished. Not only can the illness itself cause issues with eating and diet, but cancer treatment side effects can impact appetite as well. Chemotherapy is well known to be linked to nausea and poor appetite. Around the holidays, managing food as a cancer patient can be even more of a challenge.

When so many holiday festivities highlight food, it can seem daunting for patients to manage their diet. It can even bring emotional distress, as some people find they can no longer enjoy meals they used to. But holiday treats don’t need to be an enemy, and food can still be enjoyable for patients. The following tips and ideas may help keep holiday meals appetizing even while battling cancer.

Tips for Low-Stress Holiday Eating as a Cancer Patient

Cancer specialists, dietitians and nutritionists have collected a number of tips for cancer patients navigating food challenges.

Patients can give the following methods a try:

  • Carry snacks: An empty stomach can lead to nausea or stomach aches, so patients may want to keep easy-to-carry snacks with them.
  • Drink water: It can’t be stated enough how important it is for people, especially those fighting any kind of illness, to stay hydrated. Many cancer treatments like chemo and radiation dehydrate the body. Patients can infuse their water with fruit or try flavored seltzer if plain water is unappealing.
  • Fight nausea (the tasty way): Sip some peppermint tea, try that holiday-edition ginger ale or add some nutmeg to pie. Peppermint, ginger and nutmeg may help alleviate nausea.
  • Stave off “chemo mouth”: Many patients report an unpleasant taste as a side effect of chemotherapy treatments that can make food unappetizing. Keeping pineapple at hand may help with this. The fruit contains an enzyme that may help improve taste. Patients may also choose to avoid metal utensils or dishes. Adding lemon juice or vinegar to veggie dishes may also be helpful.
  • Try something soft: Cancer patients may struggle with swallowing or a sore mouth, making eating some foods painful and difficult. Try easier-to-eat holiday favorites such as puddings, mashed potatoes or casseroles. Extra gravy can help soften foods too.

These are only a few of the many suggestions that may help with appetite and eating. Choosing specific types and textures of food may help patients get the nutrients they need.

Holiday Foods for Cancer Patients

Cancer patients may want to prepare their own small snacks to bring with them to holiday gatherings if they’re unsure of what will be available. They may also want to bring their own dish. Remember, cancer-friendly food can still be fun! Patients should look for easy-to-make dishes that they want to eat. There is a full range of recipes on the internet curated by people with experience with cancer. Check out some of the tasty recipes below to start.

Carrot Mac & Cheese

Who doesn’t like macaroni and cheese? This classic comfort food only needs a handful of ingredients, keeps well and even sneaks in some veggies. This can be a great way to add some nutrients to a cancer patient’s diet while still keeping the meal familiar. Those who aren’t carrot fans can sub in their veggie of choice. Find the recipe here.

Orange & Nutmeg Rice Pudding

Looking for something sweeter? This tasty treat has the extra benefit of nutmeg, which may help with nausea. The softer texture may also be easier to eat for those who have difficulty swallowing or mouth soreness. Find the recipe here.

Pumpkin Smoothie

This pumpkin treat is cool, creamy and full of fall flavor. Real pumpkin, pumpkin spice and maple syrup combine for a sippable smoothie you can take anywhere. Adjust the spice and sweetness to your liking! Find the recipe here.

Things to Keep in Mind About Holiday Foods for Cancer Patients

While meals this holiday season may be a little different for cancer patients and those who cook for them, mindful meals can still be fun food.

Patients can alter recipes or make food selections to accommodate their needs. But food doesn’t need to be “healthy” to be worth eating. The holidays are about joy and being with loved ones, and food is often part of that. Eating things that bring happiness is both celebration and self-care.