Health Magazine

Christmas While On Chemo

Posted on the 22 December 2011 by Jean Campbell

chemo and ChristmasToday’s post is courtesy of Jim Fisher, an English chef who runs relaxed friendly hands-on cooking courses in the Dordogne region of south west France.

Going through chemo is rotten enough as it is, but it’s often especially bad at Christmas when everyone around you seems to be having the time of their lives eating, drinking and making merry.

But there’s no reason you can’t join in the fun with these recipes specifically designed to avoid certain ingredients that can exacerbate the physiological effects and taste changes that occur under chemo…

  • Alcohol – while most chemo drugs are not affected by alcohol use, many other medications prescribed along with chemo should not be taken with alcohol. Medications such as pain killers, sleep aids, and anti-nausea medications may interact with alcohol, causing adverse reactions
  • Citrus – citrus juice (in this case orange) should be used sparingly while on chemo, but the large amount of vitamin C it contains does provide valuable immune system support. However, be careful as citrus fruit can inflame mouth sores and may, in some cases, lead to constipation
  • Vanilla engenders a feeling of natural sweetness without adding sugar
  • Ginger helps calm a nauseous stomach that often accompanies chemo

Inspired by my own mother’s battle with cancer, I’ve been working with nutritional therapist, Lucy Hyland of Food For Living, to create ideas and recipes to help people going through chemo.

Recipes for when on chemo

Cream of Spiced Parsnip and Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable (other cruciferous veg are brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and spinach) and is really good for supporting liver detox – we want the liver supported as much as possible.

In blending the rather bland and grainy cauliflower with the robust flavor and silky texture of the parsnip we are creating a satisfying soup that supports and enhances liver detox in its vital role of metabolizing drugs.

The spices provide antioxidant support to protect the liver against damage.

Avoid over-seasoning the soup as strong flavors can be hard to take for patients undergoing chemo.

Soy milk and cream replaces dairy as it’s easier to digest and avoids feelings of nausea from chemo.

Serves 6 to 8

1 medium cauliflower
1 medium parsnip
1 tbsp nut oil
¼ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp nutmeg
750ml soy milk
250ml soy cream
scant pinch of salt

Break or cut the cauliflower into small florets (2cm or thereabouts). Peel the parsnip and cut into 2cm dice (remove and discard the core if woody).

Heat the nut oil in a saucepan and add the spices. Gently fry them until their full flavor is released, then add the soy milk, soy cream and vegetables. Simmer gently for ten to fifteen minutes or until both veg are very tender.

Blend really well, and that means for two minutes in the blender on high speed.

Season very lightly – if at all – then pass through a fine sieve.

Serve warm (or even cold to make it more palatable to chemo patients) with a swirl of soy cream and a tiny pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.

Civet of Turkey with All The Trimmings

For most people, when it comes to Christmas dinner it’s either turkey… or Christmas is off! But, for someone undergoing chemo faced with a diminished appetite and altered sense of taste, it can be a daunting task having to chomp through a mountain of – often dry – meat and firm veg.

Slow cooking meat and vegetables tenderizes and softens them, making the meal easy on the digestive system. Homemade stocks are a great way of adding extra nutrients to your favorite dishes.

So here’s a recipe for a slow cooked, soft and comforting stew (what the French call a Civet) containing all the requisite parts of a full-on Christmas dinner, but without all the heavy duty chewing.

Serves 8

4 free range turkey legs, skin on and cut into thigh and drumstick portions
100g plain flour for dusting
1 tbsp peanut oil
8 shallots, peeled with root intact
16 baby carrots, trimmed and peeled
2 sticks celery, trimmed and cut into 16 pieces
1 bottle full bodied dry white wine
1 ltr chicken or veg stock
1 tsp finely chopped sage
½ tsp stripped thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 16 pieces
16 baby or cocktail sausages

Pre-heat oven to 110°C. Season the flour with salt and pepper

Dust the turkey pieces with the seasoned flour, knocking off any excess. Heat the oil until faintly hazing in a wide-bottomed saucepan or large frying pan and fry the turkey on both sides until golden brown. Remove to a roasting tray.

Brown the shallots, carrots and celery and add these to the roasting tray.

Deglaze the frying pan with a good splosh of white wine, making sure all the residue from the meat and veg is lifted from the base of the pan. Add this, along with the rest of the wine, stock and herbs to the roasting tray. Place on the stove on a high heat until almost simmering. Turn the heat off, cover with foil and place in the oven. Gently roast for approximately two hours, turning once.

Add the sprouts, parsnip pieces and sausages, then re-cover and return to the oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the veg are soft and tender.

When you’re ready to serve, arrange the vegetables and sausages on an attractive serving platter and top with the turkey leg portions.

Return the sauce to a high heat and thicken if necessary with some beurre manier (flour and butter paste) or slaked cornflour.

Check for seasoning and pour a little over the turkey. Serve with roast potatoes and stuffing if desired.

Coconut Rice Pudding with Spiced Dried Fruit Compote

Dairy products can cause nausea in patients undergoing chemo treatment, so they’re best avoided. The trouble is that the cream added to most rice pudding recipes lends such an attractively unctuous mouth feel it’s hard to make one and still look forward to the experience, especially if made with water or soy milk. Well, that’s where coconut milk or cream comes in as it does have that attractive dairy-like consistency.

We’re going to make this rice pud like a classic savory risotto but with coconut cream replacing the meat or veg stock, and honey replacing the salt.

This rice pudding promises a slightly eastern feel due to the coconut, vanilla and lime zest, so serve it with stewed fruits (cooked fruit is more easily digestible than raw) from that part of the world.

Vanilla engenders a feeling of natural sweetness without having to add sugar.

Serves 4 to 6


Rice Pudding
125g pudding rice
600ml coconut milk or coconut cream
runny honey (to taste)
seeds of 1 vanilla pod
finely grated zest of a lime

500ml Earl Grey, camomile or other herb tea, hot & not too strong
1 cinnamon stick
seeds of one vanilla pod
¼ finely grated nutmeg
3 cloves
12 no-soak prunes
12 dried apricots
12 dried apple slices
small handful other mixed dried fruits

Make the tea in a saucepan over a gentle heat adding the spices early on in order that they have time to infuse. Steep the fruits in the tea, preferably overnight, but in any case for a couple of hours.

Drain the fruits and boil the tea until slightly syrupy and reduced by about half. Pour back over the fruits and allow to cool to room temperature.

Into a roomy saucepan add the pudding rice and half the coconut milk and bring to a very gentle simmer. Add honey to taste and the vanilla seeds and stir often, never allowing the rice to ‘catch’ on the base of the pan.

Now add the rest of the coconut milk a little at a time until the rice is softly cooked through and exactly how you like it. Adjust with a little more coconut milk or water if the consistency is a little thick for your liking.

Stir in the lime zest and pour into serving bowls. Drizzle with a little extra honey if desired.

Hopefully these recipes can make for a better Christmas eating experience while on chemo.

You can contact Jim via: or Tel: 0033 (0)553 302405″

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