mealtimes during the festive season

 A festive dinner table with plates and glasses

During the festive period, there can be lots of celebrations and parties, including plans to see family and friends. This can often involve eating. 

When you’re dealing with symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment, eating at mealtimes may look different than it did before. Everyone is different and we understand that for some people, you may feel uncomfortable about mealtimes and special occasions with loved ones.

Below there are twists on traditional favourites and some suggestions of how to still take part in the celebrations at the dinner table. If you’re looking for some cooking and eating inspiration, this blog is the one for you. 

“I think it’s important to set some rules about the festive season. If you feel an occasion will be too much for you consider going later when people have finished eating or take some food of your own that you feel comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to say no; no I can’t compromise, no I feel too tired … that sort of thing. The trouble is that most people who’ve had a real battering from chemoradiation don’t actually look that bad on the outside. It’s inside they are falling apart. Don’t overstretch yourself and stick to your guns.” 
 Community member, Head and neck cancer forum

“Eating can look very different during treatment and for some can become a long term situation.
I am now a veteran of 2 Christmases coming up to my third Christmas since my treatment and for me my Christmas meal looks completely different to what it used to be. I had to come to terms with these changes and for a while it was a bit of a grieving process as things will never be the same again for me with eating. However I am so glad to have actually seen 2 Christmases which I would not have had if I had not had the treatment and am really looking forward to my third Christmas.”
Community member, Head and neck cancer forum

How you eat and fuel your body may now look different to family members and those around you. Getting the right nutrition for your body means that you may no longer eat in the same way as you used to. It might mean that you’re no longer able to enjoy some of the foods you’d usually eat around this time of year.

Trial and error can be a big part of discovering what foods are best for your own body. When it comes to everyday you there may be a routine you follow but when it comes to festive events and get togethers, this can be overwhelming for some.

Fatigue, side effects and body confidence can be reasons why you may not want to join in the celebrations, especially when it comes to food. Our members have shared what they do to help them join in and enjoy the festive celebrations. This can be the reality of living with cancer and we’re here to help.

I am unable to eat anything that is eaten at Christmas so knowing that I come prepared with my own food and of course a Fortisip. The meal remains the same as I eat everyday as I have got to the stage where I know exactly what I can manage.

My family all know that I will bring my own food whether we are out eating or at home. However they often feel a bit guilty and try to find something for me to eat. I tell them not to worry that I have it under control and to just cook for the rest of the family.

I still enjoy what I eat but it is just very different to what everyone else eats as I can only manage pureed foods.”
 Community member, Head and neck cancer forum

“My husbands condition should be very healthy sadly my needs are the complete opposite as my stoma dictates what I can have, this Christmas my table will have five.

One vegan One high protein meat eater, Two normal eat anything and then Whoopi my Stoma…"
Community member, Ileostomy, colostomy and stoma support forum

Recipes and meal ideas

Alongside the suggestions below, don’t forget, there’s the Tips, ideas and recipes section of the Community news blog, here you’ll find additional information and guidance about eating. There’s the ‘Dining with an ostomate series’ which includes some suggested recipes from Debbie and the Cancer and food blog which has some tips on finding some help and guidance.

You can see more suggestions which have been shared in the discussion threads which are linked below. Please do join in the conversations if you have anything you’d like to share with other members.

  • “Unfortunately, turkey, plum pudding and mince pies don’t puree very well I have found so I can’t share any adapted recipes. As a treat I find tiramisu is delicious so will definitely be taking some along for my Christmas dessert.”
     Community member, Head and neck cancer forum
  • “Another dessert idea is baked apple. Take the core out fill with brown sugar, a little butter and if your stoma can tolerate them mixed dried fruit. You can sprinkle with a little cinnamon if you like (I don't personally). Put apples in oven medium heat and bake for around half an hour- timing depends on how large the apples are. I personally prefer Bramley’s, but you can use eating apples as these are sweeter.”
      Community member, Ileostomy, colostomy and stoma support forum

  • “I am going to cook 3 smaller puddings rather than one large we will have one fruit Christmas pudding, one chocolate and one choice for all ages. Choc for children. And no one will notice if I don’t eat the fruit one.”
     Community member, Ileostomy, colostomy and stoma support forum
  • “Christmas dinner my intentions are to eat roasted meat small portion with roasted potatoes, mashed swede with salt and butter non vegan, softly caramelised carrots vegan, finely chopped cabbage, petit pois with finely chopped spring onion, home made bread sauce with very largely sliced onions that I can see and pick out and gravy with sea salt added to mine.  
    Dessert will meringue with ice cream and maybe a syrup or banana if there’s room. I doubt it though. I have a small appetite now.”
    Community member, Ileostomy, colostomy and stoma support forum
  • “When your taste buds are jaded adding the milder spices to food zings them up a bit. You can have spice without heat with things like coriander, cumin, cinnamon and to some extent ginger. Lamb is the easiest meat to eat so you can concoct a curry in a slow cooker.”
     Community member, Head and neck cancer forum
  • “Home made roasted butternut squash soup with the milder spices blends to a lovely smooth consistency.   Great for dunking bread if you have difficulty eating it on its own.”
     Community member, Head and neck cancer forum

Get involved and share a picture of what you will be eating during your celebrations this holiday season in the comment box below or here in our Winter picture festivalWhether your cooking, or not cooking in some cases, we’d love to see what’s on your plate and what your meal looks like.  
 If you need a reminder of how to upload a picture, there’s some step by step guidance in our Help pages.

  • Does anyone find that wine/champagne affects adversely while on chemo?

  • Hi Rosbear, 

    It's Megan here from Macmillan's Online Community team, I hope you found reading the above blog helpful. It sounds like you may want to ask this question to other members here on the Community and our Community groups are a good place to chat with others, ask questions and give support back. 

    From looking at your profile I can see that you've already joined the Bowel (colon and rectal) cancer forum so you may wish to start a discussion here and re-post your question for other members to reply. 

    To start a discussion you will need to click the '+new' or '+' button near the group title. If you need some further guidance posting in our Community groups there is some step by step information in our help pages

    I hope the above makes sense but if you have any questions or would like some help using the Online Community for support, please don't hesitate to get in touch with the Online Community team. 

    You can contact the Online Community team by sending a private message to the Moderator account, or by emailing

    Best wishes, 

    Macmillan's Online Community team