More than 1.5 million Americans will get a cancer diagnosis this year.
Harsh treatments can leave patients weak, tired and nauseous. The last thing they want to think about? Food. But good nutrition may be one of the most important factors in their recovery process.
That's why one group of teens is cooking for a cause. They're part of the Ceres Community Project, a program that trains students to cook healthy foods for cancer patients - free of charge! So far, they've delivered more than 69,000 meals.
"I love cooking, and I think it's great that I can do something I love while helping someone else feel better," says 17-year-old Serena Organ.
"You cook to eat, but now there's people who really need it," says 14-year-old Lucas Dubois.
According to the National Cancer Institute, between 20 and 40 percent of cancer patients die from causes related to malnutrition, not the cancer itself. And 80 percent of cancer patients will develop some form of malnutrition.
"They lose their sense of taste. They don't feel like eating," says Julie Burford with the Ceres Community Project.
The students prepare the food with that in mind. They make tasty, but nutritious dishes like Moroccan fish and buttermilk marinated breaded chicken with coconut curry soup and kale salad as sides. The ingredients are whole and organic - with no refined sugars.
One favorite recipe is the magic mineral broth. It contains a host of cancer-fighting ingredients like carrots, onions, leeks, celery, red potatoes, Japanese sweet potatoes, yams, garlic, parsley, kombu, peppercorns, juniper berries, and bay leaves. (You can find the recipe at the end of this article.)
"It's so packed with nutrients, so even if you just take one bite, it's better than most foods," says Kathleen McDonough, a physical therapist and volunteer.
For the students it's a lesson in nutrition, generosity and sometimes loss. They just found out one breast cancer patient they've been cooking for passed away.
"There's an actual purpose for why we're cooking," says Dubois.
The teens also cook for patients with life-threatening illnesses other than cancer. So far about 300 students have completed the program.
Magic mineral broth
Prep Time: 10 minutes · Cook Time: 2 to 4 hours · MAKES 6 QUARTS
Nutrition Per Serving: Calories: 45; Total Fat: 0 g; Carbohydrates: 11 g; Protein: 1 g; Fiber: 2 g; Sodium: 140 mg
- 6 unpeeled carrots, cut into thirds
- 2 unpeeled yellow onions, cut into chunks
- 1 leek, white & green parts, cut into thirds
- 1 bunch celery, including the heart, cut into thirds
- 4 unpeeled red potatoes, quartered
- 2 unpeeled sweet potatoes, quartered
- 1 unpeeled garnet yam, quartered
- 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, halved
- 1/2 bunch flat-leaf parsley
- One 8-inch strip of kombu
- 12 black peppercorns
- 4 whole allspice or juniper berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 quarts cold, unfiltered water
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse all vegetables well. Combine in pot with water 2 inches below the rim, cover, and bring to a boil. Remove the lid; decrease the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours. Add more if the vegetables begin to peek out. Strain the broth, add salt to taste.
Delicious dark, leafy greens
Prep Time: 15 minutes · Cook Time: 15 minutes · SERVES 6
Nutrition Per Serving: Calories: 109; Total Fat: 5 g; Carbohydrates: 15 g; Protein: 3 g; Fiber: 2 g; Sodium: 129 mg
- 6 cups kale or Swiss chard, stemmed, cut into bite-size pieces
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, cut into quarter moons
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup raisins or currants
- 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts (optional)
Cover kale with cold water and set aside until ready to use. In large sauté pan, heat olive oil. Add onions and salt. Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes. Decrease heat to low and cook slowly for about 20 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add raisins and stir. Add 2 tablespoons of water. Add greens and cook until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve and sprinkle with pine nuts.