One of the most common ways to provide support and comfort to those you love is with food. Whether it’s pie for the hostess or some muffins for your friend who just had a baby. But where to start when cancer enters the equation? Enter Cook For Your LIFE. It’s an online resource for all things healthy-food related for those touched by cancer. Think recipes, videos and basic cooking info.
We chatted with Ann Ogden Gaffney, a two-time cancer survivor and the founder of CFYL, about the work she does for those in the cancer community and beyond:
How are you rethinking the way people in the cancer community access nutritional resources?
At Cook for Your LIFE, we teach healthy cooking to people touched by cancer. My mission is to make healthy eating and proven nutrition information accessible to any cancer patient or caregiver, regardless of their means or financial situation.
When you came up with the idea for CFYL, what were you hoping to achieve?
It came about from my own experience of treatment side effects, like taste changes, nausea and a draconian neutropenic diet my oncologist prescribed for me.
I wanted to help my fellow travelers in cancer to deal better with managing treatment side effects and with the restrictive clinical diets that patients have to cope with – the lists of ‘NO’ I call them.
Most of the fellow travelers in cancer I met simply didn’t cook at all and found eating a chore at best, impossible at worst. I figured that if I could teach them some really basic culinary skills, it would help them to eat better in both treatment and in survivorship since they would learn how to make unfamiliar foods (like greens, fresh fruits and whole grains) taste good.
Why is a nutritional resource such as CFYL so import for people in the cancer community?
Study after study shows that when it comes to cancer, what you eat matters a whole lot. The American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that some 30 percent of cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes that include eating a more plant based diet and regular exercise. Prostate, endometrial, colorectal and breast are among the cancers whose risk can be reduced by healthy eating and keeping moving.
Can you describe the difference between the CFYL cookbook and a typical cancer-focused cookbook?
When I was going through my own cancer treatment, friends gave me ‘cancer’ cookbooks that I didn’t use. What was interesting was that these and most other cancer cookbooks are written by doctors and nutritionists who have no direct experiential knowledge of treatment side effects. Patients’ problems are viewed from the outside in. That was the real ‘aha’ moment for me.
I wanted to create a cookbook that corresponded to how patients felt as they went through their treatment. Patients often feel ill and very fatigued the day after chemo, but approaching normal 4 or 5 days later, with more energy, so I set it up to follow this idea, with chapters like ‘simple’ for dishes to make when you’re fatigued or your caretaker’s strapped for time; ‘soothing’ for when you feel horrible and want food that comforts and nourishes every bit of you; ‘spicy’ to help overcome taste changes, and ‘sweet’ for some healthier treats for the inevitable sweet tooth that many chemo patients develop. We also added some cooking basics.
What are your favourite recipes that would be a great start for those unfamiliar with CFYL?
Cooking something that’s both delicious and good for you doesn’t require hours of prep, or a lot of culinary skills. My favorite recipes for those starting out on the culinary journey always tend to be really easy, really tasty and focused on taking greens beyond sides and the salad bowl to become an integral part of all meals so we can increase the amount of veggies we eat.
Tomato and Sweet Potato Soup
Soups are a great way to add veggies to your plate, and this one is really simple, tasty family food that is full of antioxidant lycopene and vitamins A&C and tastes like a dream.
Spicy Pasta with Kale and Almonds
No one thinks of pasta as a way to eat your greens, and yet it is the perfect vehicle, as this easy supper dish shows. This bone is about ½ veggies and ½ pasta, and very tasty to eat.
Frittata with Leafy Greens
A great lunch, brunch or breakfast dish. Frittatas are another wonderful way to get in those veggies, in a deliciously savory way. A fabulous way to make dinner with leftovers.
Quinoa Breakfast Porridge
And speaking of breakfast, it is one of the most important meals of the day and yet it’s often mostly sugar. Donuts anyone? I love quinoa for breakfast. It has complete protein, and a ton of nutrients and of course fiber. And this fruity treat cooks even faster if you have leftover cooked quinoa on hand.
How do you see the CFYL brand evolving, say in the next five years?
This is an exciting moment for Cook for Your LIFE. We are in the process of becoming an all-inclusive online resource that provides more than just dry facts. Our ultimate goal is to offer the possibility of free help with cooking and nutrition to everyone in the cancer community.
Ann Ogden Gaffney is the founder of Cook For Your LIFE. In 2007 she gave up her career in fashion to start CFYL and has been touting healthy cooking for people touched by cancer ever since. The Cook For Your LIFE cookbook, featuring delicious, nourishing recipes for before, during and after cancer treatment was published in 2015.
Visit cookforyourlife.org for more info.