Holiday Cooking Tips

The holiday season is fast approaching, and no matter what, you do you can’t slow it down, and you can’t stop it from coming. As the chef in the family, I always volunteer to help out with all of the cooking. During my mother’s cancer treatments, I was really upset at the prospect that my mother’s cancer treatments were going to make her unable to enjoy the holidays the way she always liked to. My mother loves the holidays, especially Christmas. Her favorite part is, of course, watching everyone open presents. But the close second for her has always been the big family meal. So from my family to yours, I have written a list of tips to remember for when you are cooking for you and your family during cancer treatments.


5 things to think about or even ask your beloved cancer fighter

1. Ask what foods and flavors your loved one is craving and then make them.

We all know that holiday meals usually involve some large piece of roasted meat and many many side dishes, but we need to think about the cancer fighter in our life. Ask your loved one and their caregiver what foods they have been craving, what foods they have been able to eat and then make them. Cravings can help us to understand a person’s nutritional needs or even what they are lacking in their diet. Finding foods that they are having success with makes it easier to eat, and get extra nutrients into their diet. Also, I encourage you to think outside the box on your holiday meal this year. Everyone loves turkey and stuffing, but if they are having difficulty eating that, would it really be so bad to have a baked Mostaccoli on the table?

2. Ask if there are any foods, flavors, or smells that are giving your loved one nausea. Then, avoid making those items.

Does your family habitually eat broccoli cheese rice casserole? Is that giving your cancer fighter nausea at the very thought of the broccoli? Well, very simply, don’t do that. We don’t put our fingers in the electrical outlets either. The relationship between smells, appetite and nausea are fundamental. You smell something tasty? You become hungry. You smell something rotten? You are no longer hungry and may in fact become nauseous. The goal is to build the appetite with those delicious smells.

3. Ask if they are having difficulty with metallic taste.

If they are having difficulty with metallic tastes, I would strongly encourage you to work palate cleansing techniques into your cooking. These palate cleansing techniques will enable your loved one not only to taste their food through the metal, but help to clean out those residual metallic tastes that pop up after swallowing their food.

Palate Cleansing Techniques

Vinegar Method

2 tsp red wine vinegar followed by equal parts sugar (2 tsp)

Vinegar lightens the dish while cleansing the palate and sugar masks the vinegar’s taste and smell. Add during cooking so the vinegar’s smell is less aggressive.

Citric Acid Method

Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice over the food while serving. Think lemon on fish or lime on street tacos.

Herb Method

Add some fresh herbs to help cleanse the palate and fight off metallic taste. Mint, cilantro, basil, and Italian flat leaf parsley are great palate cleansers. Just add the fresh chopped herbs on top of food before serving. Think fresh basil on spaghetti.

4. Take the weight of food into consideration.

Is it too greasy? Can your loved one eat a cream soup or a thin broth soup? Ask! The weight of food doesn’t mean the physical measurable weight in grams or ounces. What I mean is the perceived residue that is left in the mouth after eating. For example, a pot roast with its complex fats and thick, rich sauce leaves a heavy flavor residue in your mouth after eating. We would call this a “heavy” dish. Whereas a greek salad with feta, kalamata olives and a vinaigrette dressing leaves a fresh light feeling in your mouth. We could call this a “light” weighted dish. So, ask your loved one about the types of food they’ve been able to eat, and then deduce the pattern of weight inside of the dishes. If they are having success with heavy dishes then you can cook normally, but if they need light weight dishes you’ll need to bring some lighter weighted dishes to the table so your loved one can feel included in the family meal!

5. Think about texture.

Mouth sores are incredibly painful. If mouth sores are an issue, it is better to make soft textured foods, as hard crunchy textures tend to be more abrasive and can exacerbate mouth sores. So, I encourage you to change some of your hard crunchy textures into soft textures. For example, if you wanted to serve potatoes, serve soft preparation methods like mashed potatoes instead of crunchy preparation methods like potato chips. Same food, just made differently.

Remember, that good morale and good food go hand in hand. Armed with all of this information I know that you can have a happy holiday season! One last thing to remember, we are not cooking for our preferences, but the cancer fighter’s preferences!

Chef Ryan Callahan

Chef Ryan Callahan is a 2x Gourmand World Cookbook Award Winning Chef. Author of Cooking for Chemo …and After; Cooking for Kids with Cancer; and Chef Ryan’s How-to-Cook Cookbook. He is also the founder of

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