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Your Friend with Cancer: Sharing Nourishing Food

December 17, 2021

Providing food for a friend with cancer is often one of the first things that come to mind as a way to help and show that you care. And for someone with cancer, nutrition is an important factor in strengthening their immune system.

In our fourth and final article dedicated to supporting your friend with cancer, Karen Smith, MS, RD, CSO, LD, manager of dietary services, highlights important considerations for sharing nourishing, nutritious food with your friend.

What are the most important considerations to keep in mind when preparing or buying food for a friend with cancer?

Any gift from the heart will be appreciated by your friend. Still, there are some considerations and tips that might be helpful, including:

  • First, know that your friend’s taste and preferences may change dramatically during treatment, and this is normal. Some people who have loved chocolate all their lives may not be as interested during therapy.
  • Second, keep food safety in mind. While people undergoing cancer treatment don’t typically need to follow extra food safety precautions, they should be following the guidelines provided at foodsafety.gov, including temperature guidelines to ensure that food is cooled or frozen correctly.
  • Third, clearly label the item so that your friend knows what it is and how to reheat it. You may label your container if you want it back, as many people receive similar containers and don’t always remember what belongs to whom. Consider using recyclable or disposable containers or make a gift of the dishes in which you deliver your food.
It’s always a good idea to ask permission to bring something to your friend. Simply asking, “Can I bring you some homemade soup?” let your friend know that you’re thinking of them."

Are there important questions to ask your friend or their caregiver before making a meal?

It’s always a good idea to ask permission to bring something to your friend. Simply asking, “Can I bring you some homemade soup?” lets your friend know that you’re thinking of them. Suggest specific things you’d like to bring, which is less overwhelming than asking someone “What can I bring?” If your friend declines your offer to bring a meal, try asking “Is there anything you need?” or “Is there anything that would be helpful for me to bring?”

In addition, you can ask about food restrictions, diet changes, and if a meal planning service has already been set up, such as a Meal Train. Many patients and families make these arrangements quite early and provide details, ideas, and special requests through the service.

Which recipes are both nutritious and may taste good to someone with a low appetite or who is dealing with nausea?

There’s no one dish or recipe that works for everyone. One of the things I always ask people with low appetite and nausea to remember is hydration. Dehydration can make nausea and lack of appetite worse, so my go-to recommendations tend to be hydrating foods.

Think broth-based soups like chicken noodle or egg drop soup, or smoothies made with frozen fruit, bananas, and yogurt. Ginger may help with nausea, and fresh or powdered ginger can be added to soups or smoothies. This can be very particular to each person, so it’s always good to check before adding it to foods.

What is the most creative or thoughtful dish you’ve seen brought in for a cancer patient?

In many ways, sharing the experience is what stays with people the most. I do remember a group of friends that started taking cooking classes together when one of them was diagnosed with cancer. They all learned new skills, tried new dishes, and most of all, enjoyed their experience together. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it may not be possible to take in-person cooking classes, but there are virtual options for connecting and sharing experiences together.

How does Texas Oncology’s Provider Education on Cancer and Nutrition (PECAN) taskforce support patients?

Texas Oncology’s PECAN taskforce ensures that all Texas Oncology clinicians have access to evidenced-based oncology nutrition resources. We review booklets, education courses, tip sheets, and community resources for our patients. Our goal is to make sure that every patient has access to nutrition resources that are relevant to their cancer diagnosis and treatment and individualized for their needs.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.