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Cooking for a sick friend - need your help

My friend was recently diagnosed with an ovarian cancer, had an extensive surgery and started chemo this week. Three of us decided to get together every couple of weeks and make 3-4 dishes for her - some to eat within a few days, the rest for the freezer. Abby used to be very adventurous eater but now can't tolerate any spices. I am at loss of what to make and hope that some of you either were in similar situations or know of someone who was and would be able to offer advice on what bland dishes will be OK for Abby and nourish her at the same time.

Many thanks!

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  1. A friend of mine went through breat cancer treatment last year. I'm trying to rememeber everything that I made (we also did a group thing and took turns cooking for her & family)...here are a few recipes that I know I brought her:

    galbi jim (beef short rib stew - leave out the chili paste and it's quite mild)

    sausage shepherd's pie with squash (I omitted the curry powder, or at least cut way back on it):

    cod with Swiss chard and potatoes (I use anchovy broth in place of the chicken broth, to keep with the fishy flavors):

      1. Tastes change during chemotherapy, and generally they go towards simple bland comfort food. Remember that your goal should be to make the food calorie dense because she will be throwing up so much. Make mashed potatoes with butter and full cream. Don't use pepper. Make macaroni and cheese. Also, for some reason, homemade caramels work well. Here is a good recipe from Epicurious, just don't sprinkle them with salt.


        The thing about the caramels is they have a good amount of fat so they deliver calories but you suck on them slowly so sometimes if everything else makes you throw up, you can keep those down. I have cooked for several people going through chemo and these were the three requested items. Good luck with your cooking.

        Edit: I always packaged the mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese in quite small disposable containers so the patient would be more likely to take one and heat it up. They often said that staring at a whole pot of something would make them gag. If the portion is large it's too daunting when they are at their sickest. If she wants more, she'll heat up another serving.

        1. I believe I have responded on all of the quoted threads below, but more than willing to do this again. Throw out the book. What is tolerable after chemo 1 maybe totally different after chemo 3. But the constant for me was, protein. I needed protein, and my body needed protein. And I needed fibre [along with a bunch of other pills.]

          I ate about 2 oz of food every 2-3 hrs. Breakfast was oatmeal. Then was the smoothie with yogurt [active cultures] and frozen fruit since it has been blanched so didn't present issues for the immune system. Lunch varied [selections below]. Afternoon snack was a hard boiled egg [kept an already cooked bunch in the fridge] or more yogurt. Dinner varied.

          Items that I made for each round in miniature:
          fish cakes
          meatballs [lots of meatballs]
          lamb kebob with spinach pie
          mashed potatoes
          small piece of steak
          chicken stock soups
          pasta with garlic and olive oil

          In general, everything was cooked and ready to reheat. I craved salt and cumin. I was required to drink no less than 64oz of water daily for the first week of each round.

          So, the biggest advice. Packaged in small bits. She won't want to warm a whole lasagna, but a small bit might appeal. Oh, and tomatoes are really hard on the mouth during chemo. Raw vegetables are risk zones. Feel free to email me if you want some additional ideas.

          I will post back as I recall more.

          Oh yea! Then buttered popcorn [with salt, of course] at night to keep me regular!

          1 Reply
          1. re: smtucker

            sm, i'm so glad you are through that.I thought your post so thorough- i wanted to suggest that you store it in your pc files so you can pull it out when the next CH or other request- is posted.

          2. I don't have meal suggestions, but just wanted to say how kind you are for doing this for your friend. Since you are coordinating a bunch of folks and maybe want to share all the great advice you are getting, you may also want to use mealtrain.com or one of the other networking sites. I also used google documents (a spreadsheet) as a simpler way to keep a calendar of meal-giving and share information about food preferences. Happy to provide more TA if needed.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jessinEC

              jessin, please advise on using a spreadsheet - I think we need to keep track of what we make, containers' size, what she liked, etc.

              1. re: herby

                Not a spreadsheet exactly, but my friend used the lotsa Helping Hands website. She designated someone else to do most of the setting-up stuff, but then she would go into the calendar and post which days she wanted someone to bring her food. For example, she'd put a request up on the calendar for a chicken dinner on Tuesday. Then her friends could look at the calendar, sign up to fulfill her request, and even make notes about what we were bringing so others could see and not duplicate in the near future. She could also put info in the requests about dietary notes, quantities, etc.

                I don't think that i'm explaining it very well but the website was great:


                1. re: gimlis1mum

                  this is a wonderful website for anyone trying to organize help after surgery, during treatments, or during a mourning period.

                  Perfect anytime someone needs delivered meals.

            2. When my sister was going through this, some people brought food and other people gave her gift certificates to restaurants that were delivery/pick up. That gave her other options that she really enjoyed.

              1. I have a friend who was going through a similar treatment last year and her medical team advised her to eat asparagus. I made asparagus soup with chicken broth, onions & leeks with thyme for flavor and potato as a thickener. After simmering, I blended the mixture down and then you can either add cream or half and half for richness, or leave it out. Very satisfying and freezes well for reheating in small portions.
                Best wishes to your friend for a full recovery!

                1. Good for you and your friends for helping her out! I used to work for the American Cancer Society, and they (back then) had a free booklet on cooking for cancer patients, including increased nutritional needs (think protein), but low spice/low odor to minimize nausea. Plus, chemo is so different, depending on the cancer type, site, and staging, so one person's response won't be another person's. Call ACS and see if that book's still around. Best wishes to her and to your cooking efforts!

                  1. I spent some time with my aunt while she was going through chemo. She had complications from surgery and had to avoid anything with nuts, seeds, pulp, beans, etc for quite a while. As she grumped the first few months were lots of baby food ... she doesn't eat much meat, so meeting the protein recomendations was really a challenge.

                    Yogurt, stewed apples, a small piece of chocolate, tea, isopure (high protein clear drink available from GNC) and water were on the menu every day. Beyond that it really depended on her mood. When I stayed with her during the last chemo session, she was back to seedy things and craving spicy foods. So I made things like baigan bharta (removed all skin and most of the seeds), chili (mashed the beans), frittatas, and fruit pies pie.

                    Please run your menu by your friend. Well-meaning friends and relatives brought a lot of food over for my aunt, and once her freezer was full she ended up donating a lot of salads (cooked/processed foods went down better), breads, grainy casseroles and almost everything with meat.

                    1. Thank you - thank you - thank you to all of you!!! I learned from you so much in the last 24 hours that it is truly amazing.
                      @pine time - before your post I was searching Canadian Cancer Society site but did not find much on nutrition aside from reference to nutritionists. On the ACS site I found a booklet - Nutrition for the Person with Cancer During Treatment - how pefect if this?!
                      I started checking the chow links that valerie suggested and what a wealth of information!
                      @smtucker - that you for sharing your personal experience - it is very precious
                      @odkaty - I do not know what baigan bharta is - please explain. I will definitely run menus by Abby. I have been making food for her already and she is good about telling what she does not like from what I made but not good about telling me what appeals to her; most likely because she does not yet know and as some of you said, likes and dislikes are moving targets at the chemo stage.
                      I am going to summarize all your responses, ideas, suggestions, recipes, etc. and post at some point so that people in my situation will have an instant reference source from the trusted community. It will take me awhile but I'll get it done:)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: herby

                        So glad that ACS booklet is still available--our patients (and their caregivers) thought it was very helpful. While I've worked in oncology for years, caring for both parents during their last weeks of cancer diagnoses was both the hardest and yet the most poignant time of my life. Best to you and your friend!

                        1. re: herby

                          Good luck to your friend. She will appreciate the support :-)

                        2. My mum and stepmum both did very well during chemo on chicken pies. I made batches and froze them...I used deep dish large muffin tins rather than the size that are favoured for these in bakeries and frozen food aisles, as the sizing was a big issue. My mum especially was daunted by large portions.

                          Both recovered well, my mum lived to be 90 and died of something else entirely.

                          Just got off the phone with stepmum: she is cancer-free for 5 years now and cooking up a storm for my Dad, sister and family-I am 2000 miles away but we stay in the loop by trading recipes.

                          Oddly enough, the recipe we were talking about was a chutney-chicken-curry and Stepmum was reflecting on how she is interested in spicey things again these days...

                          1. My friend enjoyed egg drop soup.
                            I love the name Abby. I hope she will be fine.

                            1. I can tell you of 2 things in particular that my family member liked while enduring the same experience as your friend. She liked the chicken broth from a nearby Chinese restaurant. It wasn't spicy but was rich and tasty.
                              Also, she loved sherbet and I tried mixing it with Ensure and making frozen pops. A bust. Then I tried yogurt instead of ensure and it was a hit. Sweet, tangy, easy on the stomach.

                              One tip I can give is to offer very small amounts in sweet little dishes. A normal portion can be overwhelming and the appetite will go. Just like that. She can always have more.

                              Oh well, maybe one more thing: what is tolerated or not can change daily! Just be ready to try other things.

                              You're a good friend. Best to Abby, her friends and family.

                              eta: There's a book called "Cooking Well for the Unwell". Perhaps your library has it so you can get some ideas there.

                              1. how about something like rice cooked with chix broth and then some chicken mixed in? Rice with chicken? You could even use canned chicken if you didn't have any other. But I would par boil a boneless skinless chicken breast, then cube it and incorporate it into the rice. You could also throw in some mixed frozen veggies. It was one of my all time favorite dishes when I went to grandma's as a kid.

                                Or something like a chicken or turkey noodle casserole or tetterzini. Chicken or turkey a la King

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Atochabsh

                                  i loved chicken pot pies that were a little bland. and roasted turkey (also not spicey) with simple gravy and mashed potatoes. between chemos i had a thing for falafel in pita and 5 years later i've never been able to eat one since! i hated anything complicated. everyone has different tastes.

                                2. Your suggestions have been invaluable - THANK YOU! to all of you for thoughtful messages, good wishes, recipes, meal ideas and other advice. I will try to post our cooking experience as we go on with a view to help others who go through similar experiences.

                                  Chemo -Week-One

                                  This is the first time that Claudia and I are cooking together for Abby. Claudia spoke with her to figure out what we should make - Abby wanted sandwiches and breads. After some discussion, the food scope became a bit wider. Claudia is baking white bread and making white chicken chile. I made apple sauce, baked apple sauce muffins, and made cream of asparagus soup without cream, thickened with potato. I talked with Abby tonight and she is all happy to have visitors and food tomorrow night.

                                  pine time, I am taking a print out of the ACS booklet that you suggested to Abby tomorrow. Smart as she is, she has no idea of what is good for her to eat at this time in her life. She is from Wisconsin (we both live in Canada) and having an advice from a medical institution at home means a lot to her.

                                  1. After chemo and radiation for lung cancer. my father (a real foodie) wanted nothing to do with food. That was really difficult for me to accept, but once i did, I managed to stop offering things that I thought he should eat. Really, really hard to do.

                                    1. If she is on chemo you'd better ask her as her tolerance of food may be limited. If she wants it and can eat it, I have had my best cooking-for-sick-friend success with tapioca pudding. I use the Fluffy Tapioca recipe on the Minute Tapioca box and double it (4cups milk) but I increase the eggs from 2 to 3 (for added nourishment) and double the vanilla.

                                      1. It has been awhile since I posted and just want all of you wonderful people to know that we continue to struggle on. Surprisingly, food has not been too difficult. There are amazing drugs available today that were not around even a couple of years ago. Abby was thowing-up only after the first chemo; the drugs controled it for her through the next five that she just completed last week. We have been making lots of cream-style soups - asparagus, potato, sweet potato, zucchini. She loves turkey and leek pot pies (Jamie Oliver solution to left over Thanksgiving turkey - really good) and I made many. She was craving sweets and I made blueberry and peach squares - easy and flavourful. It has been six month and I am very-very tired... Working full time does not help either.

                                        Things are not going well - after six chemos her cancer biomarkers are up almost to the level where she started meaning that she might need chemo on a regular basis to stay alive... Please send positive thoughts to the universe out there and I thank all of you so very much for helping me help Abby!

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: herby

                                          Just in case you haven't seen this thread. Lots of ideas:


                                          1. re: smtucker

                                            Thank you, smtucker, I have not see this thread - had a quick look and it is full of useful info. I am leaving on a long vacation next week to spend time with my children and their children and very much looking forward to it. Meals-on-wheels will be bringing food to Abby while I am gone and a couple of other friends to a limited degree. She is very good about making herself eat whether or not she feels like ti. I hope she will make it!

                                            1. re: herby

                                              Sending out every ounce of love and compassion and hope for complete healing to your dear friend, herby. Best to you both. Remember, you BOTH need hugs right now.

                                              1. re: mamachef

                                                You are so right, mamachef! I was making mashed potatoes and liver with fried onions for Abby last night (that is what she wanted) and as I was cooking, she hugged me and said : "I feel like I have my mom in the kitchen". We are the same age and our mothers are late... I'll get my hugs soon as I will be with my family for a vacation in a week and very much looking forward my three-year old grandson sharing his favourite cheese and other goodies with me:)

                                                Very grateful for your sending love and compassion for Abby - I am very humbled by the response that I received from many.