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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.

Alternatives 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.

Include umami tastes to Christmas dinner by using ingredients such as: parmesan, soy, miso, mushrooms, peas, green tea, Worcester sauce or seaweed. This will give a key savoury element to a meal and stimulate saliva flow.


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. Ginger biscuits can also make a nice gift to help ease nausea.

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 desserts 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. Try to encourage your loved one to do some of the following:

  1. Sip drinks often to moisten the mouth.

  2. Provide ice cubes, ice lollies or sugar free sweets for them to suck.

  3. Moisten food with sauces, gravy, cream, custard or ice cream.

  4. Chewing sugarless gum can make the salivary glands produce more saliva.

  5. A lip balm can help to keep lips moisturised.

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.

The Life Kitchen recipe books would make a thoughtful and practical gift for a loved one who is going through cancer treatment and struggling with food choices.

Essential Flavour recipe book

There are currently 5000 limited edition FREE COPIES of Essential Flavour – a new cookbook designed to help anyone who is living with cancer and also struggling through the cost of living crisis. Life Kitchen have partnered with the Big C Cancer Charity to create this incredible resource.

Christmas with Cancer - Recipe Suggestions

Life Kitchen have also 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.

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

Life Kitchen have also 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

Centre for Cancer Nutrition:

Alyx Stewart - founder of Centre for Cancer Nutrition

The Centre for Cancer Nutrition, based in Australia is another great source of recipes. 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.

There's a whole section of mouth watering Christmas recipes including the following delicious ideas:

  • Maple Spiced Pumpkin Cashew Cream - excellent for metallic or sour mouth tastes.

  • Tastiest Gravy Ever! - to lift a meal with rich umami tastes.

  • Mushroom Wellington - a great alternative when a patient has a meat aversion.

  • Turkey and Cranberry Meatballs - perfect for changes in taste.

  • Christmas Pudding No Churn Ice Cream - cooling in the mouth this can add another dimension to a warm dessert.

  • Cranberry and lemon Bliss Balls - these are a tart tasting treat for when many foods taste too sweet.

  • Christmas Spiced Panna Cotta - this cold desert may help with metallic tastes and a sore mouth.

Traditional Christmas recipes for someone going through cancer treatment:

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.

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.


If you or a loved one are going through cancer this Christmas, we hope this article helps you to enjoy a delicious Christmas this year and if you're looking for Christmas gifts for a loved one with cancer, take a look at our Christmas gift ideas for someone going through cancer.


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