By Ann Ogden Gaffney
When I was going through cancer treatment, I experienced bone wrenching fatigue. A pal of mine who knows I love to cook gave me a cookbook featuring recipes to help me beat it. I was excited to have something that might help and eagerly opened it up only to put it down almost immediately. It was too complicated for my energy levels, so I decided to keep doing what I was already doing: cooking simple, nutritious, minimally-processed food that I liked to eat and could make easily.
But my most important realization as I went through treatment was that if I wanted to eat well during chemo, I had to plan ahead to cope with the inevitable fatigue. My own chemo protocol had a 2-week cycle, and as bad as I felt on the days directly after my infusion, I knew that I would feel myself again for most of the second week. It was then that I would shop and cook for the freezer. I effectively created my own ‘in house’ convenience store, stocked up with favorite foods to nourish me during the down days that I knew were coming.
Here are some tips gleaned from my own experience that I hope will help you too:
- Make sure you have your pantry stocked with basics so you don’t have to go out to shop when you feel horrible. This will be personal but for me, that would be having carrots, celery and onions, pasta, rice, oatmeal, and canned beans and tomatoes. And gingerroot. It helps with nausea, aids digestion and frankly, I love its taste!
- Use your freezer! Buy quart freezer bags, and check out our ‘bag and freeze’ videos!
- Make bone broth and freeze it in quart freezer bags. You can defrost it and throw in a chicken breast or baby spinach with some egg noodles or white rice for a quick, nourishing, easy to digest soup.
- If you are vegetarian, make a vegetable-based broth instead and freeze it in quart bags. You can add miso and tofu for protein.
- If you have a favorite ‘down day’ soup or meal make a batch and freeze it portioned into quart freezer bags.
- Cheat. Use pre-cut veggies to cook with. They are a boon when your energy is low, but they will only keep a couple of days in the fridge so don’t over-buy, so don’t forget to stock up on favorite frozen veggies and fruits to fix quick meals
- Have some easy proteins on hand, like eggs, thin-cut chicken breasts or firm tofu for example, along with nuts, and favorite dairy like yogurt. Proteins and non- starchy veggies will help with the fatigue better than a carb overload. That said, carb overloads are tempting for a quick lift when you’re chemo fatigued, and the craving for something sweet can be strong. Don’t buy in a ton of store-bought treats. They are too sugary and have too many unknown preservatives as ingredients. Try baking a batch of cookies instead. Cookies are quick and easy to make and will have better ingredients and less sugar than store-bought. Eat them as a well-deserved treat, but don’t eat the whole thing!
- Last but not least, keep moving. Keeping off the couch and exercising, however hard that may seem, has been shown to help lessen fatigue.
I hope these tips help you to get through your chemo journey. To get you started, try two of my favorite recipes: Chicken Pot Au Feu is high in both protein and comfort, and super easy to make. Carrot Soup is easy, veggie-based, and uses less than 5 simple basic pantry ingredients for a simple yet delicious soup that can be eaten hot or chilled.