When Devon Davis was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2011, his focus was to beat his cancer. What the 13-year-old didn't expect were the side effects he would experience as a result of treatment, including weight gain.
Davis is among many young cancer patients and survivors who experience changes in appetite and eating habits as a result of therapies they receive. Studies have shown that more than one-third of childhood cancer survivors are overweight or obese.
"When we recognized this trend in our survivors, we realized we had to do something to intervene while they were still active patients," says Joya Chandra, Ph.D., associate professor at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital and director of its ON (Optimizing Nutrition) to Life Program. "Now we are studying a variety of interventions, from nutritional counseling to educational video games, to see what methods will help our patients best."
More than 300 healthy recipes
One idea that came out of the ON to Life Program was the need for a cookbook of healthy recipes that families could easily make. Last week, the @TheTable Cookbook was launched with more than 300 nutritious recipes for cancer patients and healthy families.
Last fall, Davis started nutritional counseling with one of the Children's Cancer Hospital's nutritionists, Rhea Li. Through the counseling, he and his mother, Tervina Hall, received healthy eating tips and recipes to try at home, many of which are included in @TheTable.
"We've noticed a major difference, especially more recently since Devon has started back at school," says Hall. "He is bringing his lunch now and becoming more active, and I can tell he's losing weight because the clothes we bought just a few weeks ago are loose on him. We can't wait for our next appointment to see what the scales show."
Convenience is key
Like many mothers, Hall is busy taking care of her four children, ages 6 to 16, so convenience is key for incorporating nutrition into their home.
"I can't go to the grocery store every time I need to cook something, so it's nice to have recipes with ingredients I already have in my pantry and fridge," notes Hall. "My whole family is eating better now. One of their favorites is what I call the meatloaf surprise, which includes veggies I've pureed into the ground turkey. They love it, and it's an easier way to add in a serving of vegetables."
The cookbook, which is accessible from mobile devices, was developed using input from families, while MD Anderson nutritionists vetted the actual recipes. The majority of recipes:
- Have preparation and cook times less than 45 minutes
- use fewer than 15 ingredients
- incorporate simple steps for children to participate in cooking
- have low calorie counts (under 400 per serving)
- incorporate nutritious alternatives to common ingredients
Customize for your family
Users can customize recipes on the website by decreasing the amount of an ingredient or deleting it altogether, which also automatically adjusts the nutritional information table present on each recipe page.
Recipes may be searched for in a variety of ways based on input from patients and caregivers. For instance, users can call up recipes based on symptom, taste, texture and color. For young cancer patients who may need to gain weight during treatment, there are recipes tagged with higher calorie content but still packed with nutritional value.
Other features of the site include cooking videos of various recipes and nutrition resources covering a spectrum of topics. Users can also rate their favorite dishes and submit their own original recipes to add to the cookbook.
"We hope this cookbook will encourage better eating habits in, not only our patients and survivors, but also healthy children early in life to help reduce their risk of developing these conditions as adults," says Chandra.