The ultimate summer barbecue guide for people with cancer

One of the best things about summer is the barbecues.

Barbecues are such an important part of summer, you don’t want to totally miss out. Plus, things just taste better when they were cooked on a grill. If you’re feeling up to hitting the barbecue circuit, here’s what you need to know to do it safely.

Yes, things should be prepared more carefully for someone who’s dealing with cancer. Don’t be shy about saying so — people are happy to help if you tell them what you need. People are increasingly aware of accommodations for people with food allergies and dietary restrictions, so asking for things to be extra safe won’t be a challenge.

Summer food safety

I normally have an iron stomach, but somehow I always get sick after potlucks. Every year, 48 million Americans get food poisoning — you don’t want to be among their number.

Do a little investigating before you dig in. Many cancer treatments weaken your immune system, so you have to be hyper-vigilant about food safety. Talk to your treatment team to get specific advice based on your treatment.

You can find more information on food safety for people with cancer from the FDA.

Make sure food prep areas — and cooks — are clean

Everything from hands to cooking tools to surface areas should be washed carefully with soap and water before any food is prepared. Continue to wash things each time they’re soiled. This should be done the same way you would for someone with a serious food allergy.

Prevent cross-contamination

Keep any uncooked foods away from cooked foods. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.

Raw meat and seafood should never come in contact with foods that will be served raw, like vegetables, or meat that’s already been prepared. Don’t reuse marinades.

Wash anything that’s come into contact with raw foods. Use a separate cutting board for meat and vegetables.

If your grill has two levels, cook veggies on the top. If not, cook the vegetables first and then cook the meat.

Make sure all fruit and vegetables have been washed

Foods that we eat raw can be dangerous if they’re not washed. Don’t just give them a quick rinse, make sure all dirt and grit has been washed away. Be especially careful with leafy vegetables that can hide dirt.

Use a meat thermometer

Don’t guess, make sure any meat and seafood has been heated to the proper cooking temperature. Don’t eat meat that’s been sitting out — reheat it to destroy any bacteria. Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat or seafood.

Cook your eggs

Eggs that are runny can harbor bacteria. Make sure your eggs are cooked thoroughly. Skip the homemade mayonnaise or Caesar dressing.

Avoid unpasteurized milk

Soft cheeses like feta, brie, and queso fresco are made with unpasteurized milk and should be avoided. Check the label when buying your dairy products.

Don’t leave food out for long

Leaving things out in the sun for hours is a recipe for food poisoning. Use coolers or heaters to make sure food stays at the right temperature. Keep food covered so bugs can’t get into it. Cooked food shouldn’t stay out for longer than 2 hours (less if it’s hot out).

Use utensils for serving

People’s hands carry bacteria, so make sure everyone uses serving utensils when putting food on their plate.

Be suspicious

If it doesn’t taste right, skip it. Tell your friends you’ll be happy to try their homemade kombucha or their 7-layer mayonnaise salad next year.

unrecognizable man hand preparing vegetables on grill, tomatoes, mushroomes, peppers and eggplant.

Sun safety

Don’t forget to stay out of the sun, keep hydrated, and wear sunscreen. Don’t hesitate to find a comfortable spot in the shade and let the company come to you.

Is it safe to eat a hot dog?

We know that processed meats increase your risk of cancer and red meat probably does, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them up completely. Enjoying the occasional hot dog or hamburger is not going to destroy your health. You can safely enjoy the foods you associate with summer, just don’t forget to explore some delicious healthy alternatives.

veggie skewers ready for grilling and side salads

Fruit & veggies you should absolutely be grilling

Grilled asparagus rafts

Cauliflower steaks

Grilled corn on the cob

Grilled eggplant

Oyster mushrooms on the grill

Grilled pineapple steaks

Lemony grilled zucchini ribbons

grilled fish and seafood from the mediterranean

Fish to grill

Albacore tuna with soy mirin marinade

Grilled arctic char with warm spring vegetables

Mackerel with soy, lime, and ginger

Grilled salmon with tangy cucumber sauce

Mediterranean sea bass on the grill

Dill grilled trout

mediterranean orzo

Super delicious, super healthy sides

Tomato salad

Mango, black bean, and shrimp salad

Mediterranean orzo

Backyard barbecue

Meals to Heal recipes for the grill

If you’re dealing with side effects from cancer treatment, the Meals to Heal Cookbook has 150 recipes designed to keep your side effects under control.

Here are some fantastic summer barbecue recipes, along with the side effects they’re designed to manage.

Sweet potato, tomato, and spinach hash, p 59

This colorful dish is packed with nutrients. Replace the tomatoes with tofu and it’s great for someone suffering from mouth sores.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Warm lima bean and asparagus salad with arugula parsley pesto, p 70

Lima beans are often overlooked, but they’re tasty and good for you. This very green salad is packed with protein, fiber, and minerals.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Lack of taste

Drunken feta caprese salad, p 73

This salad is amazing and incredibly easy. It’s worth it to find aged balsamic vinegar to really add to the flavor. Bulk it up by adding some couscous.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Lack of taste

red cabbage slaw with roasted chickpeas

Red cabbage slaw with walnuts and double citrus dressing, p 75

This is a great twist on a classic side. Add some carrots if you’d like to add to the sweetness. If you somehow have leftovers, top them with some roasted chickpeas to turn it into a delicious meal for later.

  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Black bean burgers with sun dried tomatoes and cilantro, p 127

This black bean burger is the perfect blank canvas for your favorite salsa or seasonings.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting, or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste
  • Smells bother

Grilled beet and goat cheese burgers, p 128

If you’re bored with standard veggie burgers, this is a fun and flavorful alternative.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Balsamic portabello cap burgers, p 129

This is a hearty, satisfying burger. If you’re dealing with nausea, skip the balsamic vinegar, tomato, and onion.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Greek grilled salmon with tzatziki sauce, p 140

Wild salmon is a great source of omega-3s. This is great on a plate or in a pita.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting, or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Moist and tender whole sea bass on the grill, p 142

Salmon gets a lot of attention, but sea bass is a nice mild fish that’s also a source of healthy fats.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste

Juicy grilled summer peaches, p 210

Peaches are our favorite, but you can also grill nectarines, plums, pears, or apples. They pair perfectly with yogurt.

  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea, vomiting, or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth sores
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Taste aversion
  • Lack of taste
  • Smells bother
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