Women’s Health: Program offers breast cancer survivors food tips and social contact

Weekly classes on healthy eating include tutorials, cooking sessions and group discussion

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For many women, a breast cancer diagnosis can disrupt the delicate balance of work and family. The result is often personal neglect, especially when it comes to eating right. But a program of nutrition and cooking classes can help women stay on course.

One such program, FoodShare Toronto’s Good Food for Life, caters to premenopausal women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer within the previous three years. Once a week for eight weeks, groups of 10 to 12 women get together to learn, cook and socialize.

“This program is not only to deal with the sheer facts of better nutrition, but also to explore feelings and emotions around food. It’s a very communal thing,” says Dr. Julia Lee, a member of FoodShare’s board of directors.

Much of what is learned may be common sense, like eating more fruit and vegetables, but Good Food for Life reminds women to relax and not take their health for granted. “There’s a lot of pressure on them to almost neglect themselves in the battle for survival. This program helps women get to a place where they can meet other women who are trying to work and raise a family.” Lee says. “They make a meal and eat together.”

Every week, a different theme is discussed. There are classes that focus on fruit, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, fish and lean meats, eggs and calcium-rich foods. In the fruit class, for example, the women learn four recipes: cold mango soup, whole-wheat pasta salad with dried fruit, fruit compote and salmon kebobs with mango/papaya salsa.

The recipes are all designed to be quick and easy to make, according to Louise Huneault, a chef/educator who teaches many of the classes and helped design the cooking curriculum.

Classes begin with a snack and a tutorial on the subject at hand. For example, the “convenience foods” class involves learning how to read and interpret labels. The women then break up into groups, depending on which recipe they’ve chosen to make that day, and start cooking. After about an hour, the women sit and eat together.

“We actually take the time to enjoy the food because mindful eating is a large part of the program. We teach them to sit down in a calm environment to eat. That doesn’t include the car!” Huneault says.