Christmas, Divali, Hannukah and other traditional holidays can be such a joyous time but it takes a lot of energy and resources to make them so, even when we are in the best of health. When you are living with an illness, and having to negotiate your way around treatments and symptoms, the additional pressure can be a lot to handle. It’s easy to feel torn between surfing the festive wave, and struggling physically and psychologically to get through each day.
Having looked after people for many years, I’ve seen that one of the best ways to enjoy the celebrations is to plan ahead. Stagger food purchases and preparation, and don’t be afraid to challenge the norm and see if there are simple changes you can make to your usual food, timings and festivities which will make the day work better for you. Let’s take Christmas… Whoever said we had to stick to the traditional turkey with all the trimmings, followed by a rich pudding? If chemotherapy has made your mouth sore, a stroke has caused chewing and swallowing difficulties, or you find turkey dry and unappetising, you could make a delicious soft chicken and herb mousse instead, with ramekins of seasonal vegetables on the side. Start the meal with a light smoked salmon and dill paté spread on Melba toasts – a winner with everyone at the table. Instead of a stodgy Christmas pudding, you could finish with a refreshing clementine sorbet. All of these can be made ahead and frozen, so you can get on with the preparations when you’re feeling strongest. Simply take them out the day before to defrost in the fridge and ensure they are fully thawed before eating.
At that point you’ll probably have a good idea of what you’ll feel like eating on Christmas Day. It can be a wise to have a couple of different options to hand, in case your taste buds decide to play games with you. For instance, if you’ve made soup (I love pea and ham hock soup at this time of year), you can have that in the freezer in case you can’t face a cool starter. It won’t go to waste if you don’t eat it that day – a bowl of soup is a wonderful way to warm up after a Boxing Day walk.
Have the confidence to ask relatives and friends to share foods that suit your current state of health. For example, if you have digestive issues such as IBS, or a stoma, you can look forward to lots of lovely seasonal root vegetables, such as parsnip, swede and carrots. You can still serve up Brussels sprouts and cabbage for your guests, while avoiding their gaseous effects.
If alcohol is off limits (it can be difficult to stomach when you’re undergoing treatment, even if your medical team says it’s fine to have), look to nonalcoholic drinks that feel grown-up and special. Or have a big mug of fresh mint, hibiscus or ginger tea. Try not to feel pressured into drinking alcohol if you don’t feel like it, as feeling in control of your body and as symptom-free as possible is surely the greatest gift you can give yourself. Find out more about alcohol and its alternatives here.
Talking of gifts, we have some wonderful ideas for edible presents, such as Candied Citrus Peel, delicious balls of Labneh chese, Chocolate Caramel Truffles and Dates Stuffed with Mascarpone.
Wishing you a wonderful festive season and happy holidays!