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Cooking Christmas Dinner For Loved Ones With Cancer

Cooking Christmas Dinner if you have cancer

For many of us Christmas revolves around food. But if you, or a loved one, are going through cancer treatment this Christmas, planning the Christmas menu might not be as much fun as usual. Cancer treatments can cause a variety of eating issues, including nausea, a loss of appetite, a sore mouth and taste changes. So if you're in charge of cooking Christmas dinner for a friend or family member with cancer, or if you're going through cancer yourself and you're worried about what you might be able to manage to eat, we've pulled together some helpful tips and recipe ideas.


Christmas Dinner and cancer

According to registered dietician Maureen Callahan, the easiest way to cook for someone going through cancer is to cook something that helps to soothe the symptoms or side effects they're experiencing at that time.

Below we look at some of the most common dietary issues, together with some suggestions of how to help ease them.

An aversion to red meat:

Many cancer patients find they can no longer stomach red meat, so it would make sense to serve up other good protein substitutes such as poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses or tofu. Nut roast could be a good alternative whilst remaining festive.


If your loved one is feeling nauseous, try dishing up simple comfort food with subtle flavours. Ginger, lemon and peppermint are all great ingredients associated with easing nausea. I used to love making ginger cake for Mum when she was feeling queasy.

No appetite:

If your loved one has little or no appetite, try serving up mini snacks frequently throughout the day as a large plate of food can be overwhelming and off putting. You could also look to boost protein and calorie intake by serving healthy, high-fat foods such as avocado or nut butter. Consider adding butter or oils to foods wherever possible. Use butter or margarine generously on potatoes, bread, toast and vegetables. Add a spoonful of olive oil to soups and on bread, rice, pasta and vegetables. Substitute Greek yoghurt for standard yoghurt as it has double the protein and add cream to deserts and hot drinks where appropriate.

Dry mouth:

If a dry mouth is the issue, try food and drinks that moisten the mouth and sweet or tart foods that stimulate saliva.

Sore mouth:

For those suffering from mouth sores or if swallowing problems are an issue avoid coarse-textured foods such as hard crusty breads, tough meats or crispy roast potatoes and stay away from spicy or salty foods. Instead go for soft, easy-to-swallow foods and drinks such as soups, flaked fish, mashed potatoes and pureed veggies.

Loss of taste:

Many cancer patients experience changes to their sense of taste, including experiencing a metallic taste or loosing their sense of taste. If this is the case, try using spices and strong flavours especially bitter or sour flavours to give food extra flavour.

Ryan Riley, founder of Life Kitchen, a not-for-profit cookery school for people with cancer which focuses on taste and flavour, believes the key to combatting a loss of taste is thinking about strong, layered flavours, focussing on smell & texture and using ingredients which are rich in 'umami' flavour which is often detected when sweet or bitter flavours are not.

Christmas with Cancer - Recipe Suggestions

Alyx from the Centre for Cancer Nutrition
Alyx, founder of the Centre for Cancer Nutrition

The Centre for Cancer Nutrition, based in Australia is a great place to start. It's our go-to hub for everything cancer nutrition related - recipes, information and resources for those with eating difficulties due to cancer treatment. Carers can find information and support too. There are lots of delicious recipes which are easily categorised into meal type or side effect such as difficulty swallowing, sore mouth etc.

Life Kitchen's Christmas Recipe Book
Life Kitchen's Christmas Recipe Book

Life Kitchen is another helpful resource - a not-for-profit cookery school for people whose taste has been affected by cancer or cancer treatment. They have put together a delectable but simple book of Christmas recipes that stimulate the palate and the senses and you can download it from the Life Kitchen website completely free of charge.

Some of Life Kitchen's mouth watering Christmas recipes can also be found in this Daily Mail article, including the delicious:

  • Baked camembert with quick-pickled mushrooms

  • Cheat's mince pies with miso custard tops

  • Sourdough, mustard and mushroom stuffing

  • Lamb and date sausage rolls

  • Miso, maple and tarragon sprouts

  • Mint and cranberry sauce

  • Hot horseradish, parmesan and cranberry potato cake

If none of these take your fancy, Andy Morris, Head Chef from Onko, a digital cancer care app, suggests the following traditional Christmas vegetable recipes with a twist, to ensure that loved ones with cancer don't feel left out this Christmas.

Brussel Sprouts bacon and chestnuts recipe for Christmas dinner if a loved one has cancer
  • Brussels sprouts, bacon and chestnuts

  • Potato and parsnip puree

  • Peas & mint

The recipes can be found here.

And finally, Macmillan have teamed up with Green King to create the following treatment-friendly Christmas recipes for you to try at home which can be found here:

Butternut squash and cranberry nut bake recipe suggested by Macmillan and Greene King for loved ones with cancer for Christmas Dinner
Butternut squash and cranberry nut bake

  • Spiced parsnip and honey soup

  • Butternut squash and cranberry nut bake

  • Orange and nutmeg rice pudding

The recipes above have certainly made our mouths water, but if you're in need of a little more inspiration, it's also worth taking a look at the Cook For Your Life website which is an American organisation that teaches healthy cooking to people touched by cancer.

Whilst they don't have any Christmas specific dishes, the site is packed full of recipes that have been easily categorised into meal types, food preferences (especially helpful if you're

looking for vegetarian, vegan or dairy free recipes) and health considerations such as easy to swallow or high calorie.


We hope this article helps cancer patients and their loved ones to enjoy a delicious Christmas this year!