Cooking for Those Who are Taking Chemo or Radiation Therapy

Adocado Chocolate Pudding

As I mentioned in my last post
Cooking for Those with Dietary Restrictions
This post merely relays some of the complications my clients have experienced and dietary changes they have found to be helpful.

I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or member of the medical field. I am not suggesting any treatment for any disease or ailment. If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, you should seek the advice of your physician who can recommend the proper action for your issues.

It can be difficult to cook a nutritious meal for those who are seriously ill.
People undergoing chemotherapy, radiation treatments and other intense medical procedures often suffer from severe side effects that impact their lives. Thankfully most if not all of these issues usually disappear completely once treatment has ended. These can include: Extreme nausea and vomiting, Sores in the mouth and throat, dry mouth, difficulty chewing food &/or swallowing both food and/or liquids. Some notice drastic changes in their sense of taste and smell, suffer from constipation/diarrhea and a host of other issues concerning their willingness or ability to eat a nourishing meal.

Again, if you experience any of these symptoms, I urge you to notify your physician and follow his/her directions.

Extreme Nausea and Vomiting –

  • Avoid dairy and cream base soups as well as fatty foods.
  • It may be helpful to “graze” or eat small amounts of food throughout the day instead of the typical 3-meals plus snacks. If you can’t keep down an entire sandwich, try ½ or even ¼ at a time.
  • Eat what sounds good. This may sound like a silly suggestion but many people get the mindset that eating nutritious meals will help them build strength and get to felling better faster. Well, it sounds good on paper… Truth is, for most folks, their favorite foods actually tends to stay down better than something they’re only consuming because they think it’s healthier.
    Unless you’re under orders from your physician, go ahead and make a meal off watermelon if that’s what sounds good to you. Fact is, cooler or cold foods tend to stay down better than hot or warm foods. So ditch the fat-free chicken broth and enjoy a Mock Mojito instead.
    Cook and freeze meals in advance of treatment to avoid cooking when you’re not feeling well. Or have someone else cook for you. Sometimes the longer you smell a food cooking, the less appealing even your favorite foods become.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Try cool beverages, such as water, unsweetened fruit juices, tea or ginger ale that’s lost its carbonation. Just as with eating, it may help to sip small amounts throughout the day, rather than larger amounts less frequently.
  • Pay attention to what smells trigger nausea for you and limit your exposure to unpleasant smells. Fresh air may help. Use paper plates if standing over a sink of hot dishwater bothers you. Tie your paper plate in a plastic grocery bag to avoid offensive odors from escaping the kitchen waste basket. If possible, have a friend or family member take out the trash to avoid strong odors from the trash can.

Sores in the mouth/throat & Difficulty chewing/swallowing

  • Eat soft, chilled food such as frozen yogurt, ice cream, puddings, pureed fruit and smoothies.
  • Again, eat small servings rather than large meals. The less you aggravate the area, the better.
  • Avoid spicy foods and those high in acid such as tomato, citrus & pineapple juice as well as salsa, spaghetti sauce and salad dressings containing vinegar.
  • Stay away from salty foods and hard candies. Salty foods cause more pain and hard candies can actually cut the inside of your mouth and tongue.
  • Carbonated drinks, alcohol and tobacco can cause pain if you have sores in your mouth or throat.
  • Cut your food into smaller bites so less chewing is required. Eat diced fruit and vegetables instead of biting into an apple or an ear of corn.

Dry mouth

  • Keep a glass of water within reach at all times and try to drink 8-10 cups daily.
  • Avoid foods that tend to stick to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter or soft bread.
  • Dry food will be harder to swallow. Moisten foods with broth, sauces, gravy or milk when possible.
  • Some find sucking on soft mints or sugarless gum helps.
  • Limit coffee, tea and drinks containing caffeine. Caffeine can cause you to become dehydrated and dry your mouth even more.

Changes in taste and smell

  • Try new foods and spices you’ve never eaten before. There’s a good chance you’ll find something you’ll like.
  • Do your best to eliminate cooking odors by using an exhaust fan, cooking outdoors or have food delivered so there are no cooking odors in the home.
  • Eat food that’s cold or at room temp.
  • Whenever possible, use glass cookware and plastic utensils to keep down metallic taste.
  • Rinse your mouth with salt water before meals to help neutralize bad tastes in your mouth


  • Drink plenty of fluids. This will help replace those you have lost through diarrhea. Mild, clear liquids, such as water, clear broth, sports drinks such as Gatorade, or ginger ale, are best. If these drinks make you more thirsty or nauseous, try diluting them with water. Drink slowly and make sure drinks are at room temperature. Let carbonated drinks lose their fizz before you drink them.
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Eat low-fiber foods such as white bread, white rice or noodles, ripe bananas, canned or cooked fruit without skins or seeds, yogurt, eggs, mashed or baked potatoes without the skin, pureed vegetables, chicken, or turkey without the skin, and fish.
  • Very hot or cold liquids can make diarrhea worse
  • Avoid coffee, tea with caffeine, alcohol, and sweets. Stay away from fried or greasy foods, too. They are irritating and can cause diarrhea and cramping.
  • Dairy products usually make diarrhea worse so avoid all but yogurt. It actually contains good bacteria your body needs.


  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen the bowels. If you do not have mouth sores, try warm and hot fluids, including water, which work especially well.
  • Check with your doctor to see if you can increase the fiber in your diet (there are certain kinds of cancer and certain side effects you may have for which a high-fiber diet is not recommended).
  • Try to get some exercise every day. You’re doctor can tell you the type of exercise that’s best for you.
  • You may come to a point when you stop worrying as much about nutrition and focus on just keeping something that can be eaten and kept down.
    In cooking for clients with chemo I’ve found there are no constants. Some find even the thought of food revolting and request a bland diet of oatmeal, boiled eggs and soda crackers with clear broth. Others actually seem to do better when they eat something with a little kick of cayenne or jalapeno pepper!

One thing that always seems to help is sipping a cold drink. Mint has long been used to quell nausea so how about trying an icy cold Fruity Mock Mojito?

For each drink Place 5 mint leaves and 2 thick slices of lime in the bottom of a martini pitcher and muddle (crush) with the back of a wooden spoon. This releases the juice from the limes and the oils from the mint leaves and lime peel.
For each 8 oz. drink add:
1 part (or ¼ cup) freshly squeezed lime juice
1 part (or ¼ cup) of your choice of fresh, non-citrus juice. Try pomegranate, watermelon, peach nectar or strawberry juice
1 tablespoon agave nectar or simple syrup
Fill the pitcher with ice and add 2 parts (or ½ cup) of your choice of chilled 7-up, Sprite, ginger ale, soda or tonic water.

If you find a cool drink soothes the stomach, you might try nibbling on other cool snacks as well. A nice fruit sorbet or smoothie is usually a safe bet. Don’t forget the old favorite, Jell-o. Love pudding but are having trouble with dairy on your stomach? Try this unusual recipe for non-dairy chocolate pudding from the Cancer Nutrition Consortium that’s packed full of healthy avocado. Yes, you read that correctly.

Avocado. Chocolate Pudding

2 avocados peeled and pitted
1 banana
½ cup cocoa powder
½ pitted dates that have been soaking in a bowl of water for at least 2 hours then thoroughly drained.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a food processor until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed
Transfer to individual serving. I like using 8oz jars with lids. They are easy to store and can be re-sealed if it turns out you’re not able to finish it in one setting.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions that may help others.

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