What food should we freeze for cancer patient mom and caretaker dad to enjoy?
December 18, 2011 9:10 PM   Subscribe

We have a couple days with my parents over the holidays. Mom is in chemo. Dad is caring for her. What are foods we can make and freeze that will tempt her appetite, tempt Dad's appetite, and give him a bit of a break from cooking and cleaning up? We suspect those are different foods in some cases.

Mom's chemo schedule is such that we should be able to cook in the parental home without the smell making her ill when we are there for Christmas. She has so far been unable to stomach beef, any other red meats, and spicy food. Chicken and tuna both seem to work well. She is diabetic, so carb options are a bit limited. Dad, who is retired, is caring for her; he is a meat and potatoes guy.

We want to make a variety of entree, side, and main ingredient options they can freeze and recombine for variety that will interest both of them. Key thoughts are reducing cooking smells when she is at her most sensitive times and reducing dad's cooking efforts and cleanup time. It would be great if we didn't wind up with a crazy huge shopping list, as they are out in the country, about 45 minutes from grocery shopping, and we'll already be fighting holiday shoppers in the stores. We are at a distance that's great enough that hauling food with us doesn't make sense. Ideas and recipes are both fine, as we are experienced at cooking and simply coming up blank due to the stress involved with the overall situation.

We've done some Google searches, and have some ideas of our own, but we thought that if any group on the planet would have awesome additional input, it would be Metafites!

Our ideas so far:
General ingredients that Dad can easily recombine into various entrees:
-Roast many chicken breasts, freeze in shredded, diced, and whole formats so they can add to salad, tacos, and other foods easily.
-Cook brown rice, freeze in 2-serving portions
-Cook black beans (maybe Cuban style), freeze in 2-serving portions

Food both can eat:
-Chicken soup with whole grain noodles
-Turkey meatloaf
-Turkey burgers/sliders
-Umm, not something I'd eat, but chicken and brown rice casserole with mushroom soup, panko/Parmesan topping

Food Dad will enjoy:
-Beef burgundy
-Meatballs in marinara sauce
-Beef chili

Things we are avoiding: high fat, acidic, spicy foods. Beef.

Thank you!
posted by bloggerwench to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had a discussion with a friend who is dying of cancer. His chemotherapy has made everything salty even if it didn't have salt in it. He also told me it was difficult to digest the animal protein (chicken and beef, etc.) because his digestive system had to work so hard.

I ended up making him things with tofu and soy products. Instead of chicken with broccoli, I did it with firm tofu and broccoli. I made him buckwheat noodles (which were fortified with iron) in miso soup. I purchased the organic miso paste. I also made him tofu and celery. I made him rice to go with them. All with no salt. Tastes bland to me, but he said water tastes salty so it was fine for him.

He seemed to have enjoyed the food a great deal and it gave his wife a little break from cooking. He said it didnt make him feel like he was working so hard to digest everything and that was helpful.

I would suggest you try to use vegetarian protein if possible. My beloved introduced me to Quorn, a company that makes all sorts of meatless protein and the "chicken" tastes just like chicken!

Have a great holiday with your parents.
posted by Yellow at 9:27 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Chicken and rice casserole is good. I make mine with brown rice...beware that if you are using a recipe that calls for white rice the brown will need to be parboiled a bit or cooked longer to get as soft.

The "Steamables" frozen veggies are fabulous! I am single and use them a lot. They are in the frozen section. Read the package as some are flavored with garlic and herbs, but they are super easy to microwave in the bag and are great if you can't prep and steam raw veggies.

Can you brown a couple of pounds of ground beef for you dad to use for himself? That may cut down on the offensive smell to her if he's reheating it instead of browning it from raw. I may be off base though.

Lasagna freezes pretty well, but may be too high carb for her. You might be able to cut down on the noodles though, and sub the ground turkey for the beef or sausage.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:31 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

You said she's doing okay with tuna, so how about cod? I did pretty well with cod when I was doing chemo, more so even than tuna, because it's so mild and didn't trigger my OH GOD MUST THROW UP FROM THE SMELL impulse. You can get frozen packets of it in ~ 6 oz. servings, so your dad can cook one or two servings (with some mild seasoning) to eat as fillets or to crumble as taco fillings. Lean ground turkey might be an option for this, too -- a milder and less fatty substitute for ground beef.

Vegs that worked well for me were carrots, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and avocado. I had to avoid anything that had lots of skin/seeds (like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, etc.) or anything that had a really strong smell when cooking (like broccoli), but everyone's triggers on that score are a little different.

At one point during chemo I swear I could only eat soft white foods... mashed potatoes, cream of wheat, noodles with a little butter and parmesan, yogurt, cottage cheese, custard, bananas, cheesecake, etc. I know some of that won't work for her in terms of carbs, but some of it might be good at least in terms of having things around the house to nibble on. If she's having issues with nausea, sometimes the best thing to do is not to attempt full meals, but just to eat a little bit throughout the day.

Good luck to your mom, and good on you for helping your folks out like this. If I think of some other things that were good for me, I'll chime back in.
posted by scody at 11:04 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't know where you are, but...

Trader Joe's has fully cooked brown (and jasmine, and brown basmati) rice in freezer packages. I know you can now find this type of thing anywhere, but the organic brown versions FOR SURE in health food stores.

I use this now exclusively since I had my first child 8 months ago. And I am a former professional chef and culinary school grad that makes everything from scratch. I hate processed food and think it is evil. This product is awesome, versatile, and not on my list of "evil."

I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant and had to check my blood sugar a gazillion times a day. The organic version of this frozen rice has less calories (per the package) so less carbs and spiked my blood sugar less - FWIW. Your Mom's Mileage May Vary.

- Pre-cooked chicken sausages in a vacuum package for your Dad. Like these. $6 for four links. I split them, throw them in the oven or toaster to crisp a bit - low smell - I toss into salad, soup, rice, whatever.

I've been known to chop up a small zucchini and some mushrooms, add that to the diced pre-cooked sausage, throw it under the broiler or toaster oven on some foil - and voila! Instant meat and veg.

- Organic frozen soups. Freezer aisle.

- I suggest you put your Mom in touch with a wholistic healer who is keen on herbs and nutrition, or get a book like Pritchard's Healing with Whole Foods - here's why...

The Pritchard book is industry standard, but super expensive. There are other books. And blogs or free and online sources in the same vein that will give you recipes.

Your mom needs foods that will support her body during chemo. That's a big deal. Eastern medicine practices have a lot to offer your Mom - it's the same food, just refined choices, things that promote healing.

So when I had severe anemia after a recent surgery, that meant a lot of bone marrow soup cooked with Don Quai (female ginseng) which saved me from having a blood transfusion. Which I needed, btw, by the time it was identified I was severely anemic. But the food therapy worked quickly, and I avoided the transfusion entirely.

For chemo patients, I'm sure there is a proven protocol of recipes and herbs, I just don't know what they are. But Dr. Google is amazing for this, so I would go there first.

Similarly, google around, because I'm sure there are supplements your Mom should be taking since the chemo is so hard on the body. Vitamin C (which our bodies do not make naturally, although other mammas do) is high on the list, I'm sure.


Sorry I don't know all the solutions.

I'm hoping that giving you a blueprint and a way to look at, plus research, this issue was helpful.
posted by jbenben at 11:25 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just saw the suggestion for lasagna...

When I had gestational diabetes, I made HEAPS of lasagna with thin strips of zucchini instead of pasta as the layering. The caveat there is that A LOT of extra moisture is produced when the pan goes into the oven. But so what?

If your Dad puts tin foil or a sheet pan under pre-prepared veg-based lasagna trays - it's all good.

You could also do veg versions for your Mom, and meat versions for your Dad.
posted by jbenben at 11:33 PM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: With my mom, the chemo made her sensitive to spicy foods too, and also hot foods (because of the smells) and greasy foods. She liked cold or room-temperature foods, and soft foods (cold foods because it soothes a sore mouth). It's not something you cook ahead and may not be right with diabetes, but to give you an idea she ate a lot of orange sherbert, lukewarm scrambled eggs, peanut butter on toast, cheese broiled on toast, and plain boiled oatmeal with milk.

For things that you can cook ahead, I think you are looking for cream-based or hearty soups (like potato soup, or chicken soup with vegetables), cheese dishes (like macaroni and cheese), maybe dips (yogurt-based and peanut-butter based ones). I think your beans and meatloaf ideas are particularly awesome.

Things you probably know:
- Her chemo may be causing constipation (especially if she's taking pain medicine too), diarrhea, or gas. High-fiber is what you want if there's constipation; cheese and the like is better for diarrhea; for gas stay away from cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.
- While cooking, freezing, etc., remember that her white blood cell count is down and so her immune system is not great at all. Everything should be washed, well-cooked, pasteurized. No sprouts, blue cheeses, unpasteurized milk or honey, fresh/raw nut butters.
- No supplements or teas sold to "cure" cancer or "improve" immune systems. She may forget to ask a doctor about them beforehand, and they may have unknown or bad effects for her.

It's not something you can cook, but you might throw in a case of Ensure or a similar drink that is formulated for diabetics (Ensure High Protein ingredients are listed on their website).
posted by Houstonian at 11:53 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, I hope your mom gets through OK. I've had chemo 2x and the overall comment I have to make is that it's kind of a crap shoot as to what you can handle each time/each meal so I'm not sure freezing up a lot is going to work with her palate ... but it might just be a good diversionary tactic for all concerned, especially your Dad.

Depending on the kind of cocktail she's getting, of course, chemo leaves a sweet metallic aftertaste. So sweets and fats (think of the slightly metallic taste of a fatty steak) are icky! Acids and salts worked for me as they felt like they were burning through and overpowering that chemo mouth, at least while eating. Totally agree on spicy, ouch, and tomatoes sucked, too. Carbs didn't appeal much (yay, side effect of moderate weight loss!)

The last thing I wanted was anything casserole-like, with numerous ingredients, particularly something like lasagna ... no no. There were points were I couldn't even look at a big cheesy, tomato-y mix of anything. Ugh.

I was addicted to roasted veggies, all kinds, all colors, with sea salt, fresh ground pepper. Tuna for me, too, in all its wondrous ways, especially with a little olive oil & mustard on multi-grain bread (not very festive, I know). Roasted chicken was fine, but only fresh-cooked -- leftover chicken was a problem (visuals included). I craved sushi but of course, can't go there during chemo, so that was my big post-chemo treat.

If it were my family, I'd just pull back on freezing up a lot and let your Mom figure it out, meal by meal. Good luck to everyone, it does end!
posted by thinkpiece at 4:17 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

This Chowhound thread has some great suggestions.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:01 AM on December 19, 2011

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when my wife was going through chemo she wanted foods that were going to come back up easily if she got sick to her stomach. In her case, that was mostly white rice and thin soups.
posted by maurice at 7:27 AM on December 19, 2011

My niece liked soups when she was doing chemo but nothing chunky, ones that were pureed but not too thick and light cream soups.

I know you want to help but cooking in advance is going to be difficult to do for your mother. You might consider paying for a weekly housecleaning, someone to clean the bathrooms, vacuum, sweep, mop and change the sheets. It's one less thing for your Dad to do. If you can't afford weekly, maybe every two weeks. If you have siblings, maybe you can share the cost. Give the house a thorough cleaning during your visit, make sure your mother has a few soft jammies and a very soft cap if she's lost her hair, some funny videos, some inspirational and funny books.

Another option is paying for a personal chef once a week. It's better than frozen and they can make four or five dishes for the coming week so that your father doesn't have to prepare every meal. You could also pay a neighborhood teenager to run errands once a week or to hang out with your mother so your father can get out, if things are kind of housebound.
posted by shoesietart at 8:15 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not sure if this will have cross-over appeal, but through five months of morning sickness, one of my favorite things was smoothies. Frozen fruit with tofu (or yogurt), a frozen banana for sweetness (or maybe a bit of fruit juice, if that's not too sweet for the diabetes), maybe even some fresh spinach or frozen broccoli. And, if possible, drunk out of a portable mug with a lid (so that you neither smell nor see it).
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:24 AM on December 19, 2011

When my mother-out-law was having chemo, we tried to give her different ethnic foods that she had never tasted before. For her, the chemo made everything taste different, so her favorite foods tasted "wrong". So we provided meals that were new to her and she didn't know how they were supposed to taste. IME, most cultures have a go-to bland comfort food, and we went with those a lot.

Also, is medical marijuana (in any form) an option for her? That worked really well for my MOL, too. She only vomited once during her entire aggressive chemo regime and maintained her weight throughout. Bonus: MOL being high, hilarity ensuing.
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:06 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all--this is so helpful. Lots of good ideas and things we had not considered. On reflection, I think I'll focus my cooking efforts on things dad can easily enjoy, a simple soup or two, and a few easy components that he'd otherwise have to whip up from scratch.

House cleaning help is also a great idea, and very feasible. My dad keeps their 14 acres in the country like a park, so I might engage a local company to come out and finish the winter cleanup for him.

Again, thank you so much. Additional ideas are welcome, but I'm feeling way less iffy about this now.
posted by bloggerwench at 6:03 PM on December 19, 2011

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