Chef creates special meals for kids battling cancer

January 26, 2011 3:07:43 PM PST
The term "hospital food" can bring up many negative connotations for people.

Good food and nourishment can help ease the sorrows of children with cancer. One hospital and one chef teamed up to make sure their young patients fighting cancer are eating nutritious food that they like.

Feeding children can often be a daunting task, children can be picky, finicky, and unsatisfied.

That task is even more to difficult when feeding children who are fighting cancer, who maybe are going though chemotherapy and feeling down.

It's a challenge that a pediatric staff at Memorial Sloan Kettering is willing to take on.

The Children's Recovery Room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is filled with kids ready to lose themselves in games.

Playing at the room is often a joy and an escape for these kids, but many staffers noticed eating has always been a problem.

"They may have treatment side effects, they may have nausea, they may have vomiting, and lack of interest in food", said Dominique Symonette a registered dietician in charge of the pediatrics ward.

Not eating can lead to a longer recovery. Cancer patient Jojo Ramo is only 8 years-old, has been through a bone marrow transplant and spent several months in the hospital. "There were times she didn't want to eat, so we had to find things at least to get some nutrients in", said Valeria Ramo, Jojo's mother.

Executive Chef Pnina Peled makes whatever a child requests and wants to eat. "The bottom line is I try to get them to eat", said Peled.

The daily menu items are child friendly and available at all times, Chef Peled and nutritionist Dominique Symonette consult the children and their families to come up with nutritious food that will please both the children and their morale.

"Whatever I can do to get them to eat is basically my goal, and that includes making, and even delivering, a specially made pizza a child loves but can't eat elsewhere because of dietary limitations", said Chef Peled.

Chef Peled was formerly a chef at a top tier hotel, now her obligation to the children in the cancer center is also top tier.

"She even made me powdered doughnuts, and a strawberry daiquiri just like I used to have at the beach, I was so happy I wanted more", said Jojo.

Having a happy child particularly when they're fighting cancer can be a powerful medicine for the child, parents, and doctors.

One marinara sauce the chef made included a huge variety of pureed vegetables put into the sauce of a child who would only eat marinara sauce. Small steps like hiding nutritious fruits and vegetables in sauces and smoothies can come a long way.