If you’re living with cancer this Thanksgiving, the holiday might be feeling a little more stressful than usual. Big family get-togethers, heavy meals, new scents, sounds, and travel can all deplete your energy.

To help, we’ve put together 5 simple tips for navigating Thanksgiving supper when you’re living with cancer.

Live Better With Cancer at Thanksgiving

Tip #1: Speak with the Chef

Before the meal, speak with the chef or host. Better yet, ask a family member or fellow guest to do so for you!  Make sure the chef knows about your dietary needs and restrictions. If they’re aware of your situation, they’ll be better able to help you enjoy the day.

This is a great chance to say things like: “I might not eat very much this year because I’m struggling with side-effects like nausea and I have a very sore mouth, but I want you to know that I’m really happy to be invited. Rest assured that if I don’t eat very much, it’s not because of your cooking!”

This is also the time to ask for modifications: “Could we make sure I have a big glass of water at the table?” or “Could you help me make sure that there are lots of mashed potatoes that I can eat?” or “Could I keep a little dish of some extra sauce near my plate?” are all examples of little ways that you equip yourself to have an enjoyable meal.

Tip #2: Choose Small Portions & Stay Hydrated

Whether you’re struggling with nausea, funny taste, sore mouth, or a reduced appetite, choosing small portions and drinking lots of water will make foods easier to eat and digest. Modify your menu as you go; stop eating anything that doesn’t make you feel good!

Staying hydrated will help to lubricate your mouth and make eating easier. Lots of water will also help your digestion to function normally and smoothly. Some people find that a small glass of wine can really help to stimulate the appetite before a meal, so if you’re generally not feeling very hungry but know that you need to eat, this might be a good strategy to try.

When you’re choosing food for your plate, aim first for anything that looks good. The goal is to enjoy the meal, after all!

If you’re struggling with a sore mouth, choose softer foods like mushrooms, mashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes.

If nausea is the issue, bring some ginger chews, peppermint or ginger tea, or queasy drops and pops to help keep those yucky feelings at bay. If the smells all become too much, feel free to step outside the room.

If you’re dealing with funny taste, try sucking on some pineapple pieces to cut through the chalky or metallic taste. Ensure your food is nice and seasoned – this might mean using extra salt, gravy, or cranberry sauce (or other condiments of your choosing!)

No matter what you choose, opting for smaller portions will help to make the meal feel more manageable and pleasant.

Tip #3: Make the Most of Gravies and Sauces

Gravies and sauces will help to make foods smoother for a sore mouth, gentler on your stomach, and more flavourful if taste is an issue. Add sauces wherever possible, and especially to potentially drier foods like turkey or dressing.

Feel free to ask for different sauces or bring your own sauce with you if you know there’s a particular kind that works well.

Opting for gravy is also a great way to boost your weight if you’re looking to add pounds. Fats and calories will help you to encourage weight gain.

Tip #4: Save Some Room for Pumpkin Pie!

Pumpkin is full of antioxidants, beta-carotene and vitamins A and C. It’s also full of fiber, which will help to keep you full and digesting properly. If the pastry is feeling too overwhelming, try eating the pumpkin filling only (whipped cream or ice cream optional!)

In general, orange vegetables are full of excellent vitamins and minerals, so if pumpkin isn’t your preference, squash and sweet potato are great alternatives. Other vegetable options are great, too – mushrooms, beans, brussels sprouts and other greens will boost your immune system and keep you feeling nourished. The same thing is true for cranberry sauce!

Tip #5: Be Kind to Yourself!

If Thanksgiving feels different this year, that’s okay. Living with cancer can mean that you are experiencing lots of changes in your body and your life. During the busy holiday period, listen to your body and do what works best for you. Remember: your body is working hard to make you healthy again. It’s totally normal – and totally alright – to slow down when you need to. The key is to resist the pressure from friends or family members to “behave” a particular way. People will be eager to see you healthy and happy, but if you aren’t feeling up to it, it’s completely fine to be honest and open.

During the holiday season, being kind to yourself could look like:

– Bringing your own food to eat.

– Asking to use a bedroom or quiet room for a rest or some peace and quiet if you need it (your host will be happy to accommodate you!)

– Opting for a quieter Thanksgiving; maybe choosing not to attend the full family meal or get-together this year.

– Joining in for part of the meal, and retiring to a calmer space when you feel like you need a break.

– Taking one or two things to eat during the meal, but not feeling as if you have to eat a full plate in order to be polite.

– Volunteering to walk your host’s dog, or initiating a walk around the neighbourhood for some fresh air (perfect if you’re feeling nauseated and find cooking scents very triggering).


No matter how you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we hope that you can find a few moments to feel grateful with friends and family.

Do you have any Thanksgiving tips? We’d love to hear them! Email your ideas to kylie@livebetterwith.com.