Enjoying Food During Cancer Treatment

Welcome to our monthly recipe blog from Ryan Riley at Life Kitchen

Ryan Riley is an author, cook and food stylist. He is a co-founder of Life Kitchen, an organisation that provides free cookery classes, events and resources for people with cancer.

One of the lesser-known side-effects of treatment for cancer is a dulling or loss of taste. This can have a huge impact on the lives of people living with the disease, not only physically but also psychologically, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection from those closest to them.

After losing his mother to lung cancer, and experiencing the impacts her change in taste had, Ryan decided to do something radical to improve the lives of people in a similar situation and this led to the creation of Life kitchen.

Life Kitchen is North-East based, their flagship cookery school is in Mowbray Park Sunderland, Ryan’s home city. However, they take classes all over the UK collaborating with charities and organisations that work with people living with cancer.

Sharing a meal with those closest to us is something often taken for granted. Many of our guests talk to us about feeling as though they are not able to join in, or appreciate what someone has made for them. Working with Professor Barry Smith (founding director of the Centre for the Study of the Senses) Ryan uses the science behind taste loss and offers some twists to recipes that can achieve amazing results.

Here Ryan shares some of his tried-and-tested recipes for simple, but delicious dishes which aim to help people living with cancer find enjoyment during tough times and reconnect with the simple pleasure that good food shared can bring.


2023 was a good year for Life Kitchen as we began our tour of the North East with the NCA, running classes in community venues and restaurants for local people living with the effects of cancer and treatment. This is absolutely one of the best parts of the work we do: meeting people and supporting them to improve their own quality of life through cooking delicious food. The classes are always a convivial experience – sharing food & experiences, supporting each other & making new friendships. The Life Kitchen team all feel very privileged to be able to be a positive part of people’s cancer journeys.

Personally, 2023 has taken its toll on me and my mental health and I have used the last year to fall in love with food and cooking again. I believe that many of the feelings I have experienced would be relatable to some people living with cancer, and I hope that my journey and the resulting new recipe book helps others to find joy in eating again.

The recipes in my new book are designed for when you are running low on mood, time, energy, money or headspace. The easy and delicious recipes aim to minimise the work and maximise the flavour, helping you to perk yourself up.

I have chosen this month’s recipe as it is a simple but uplifting and restorative dish. This is a 30-minute midweek meal that doesn’t hold back when it comes to warming, satisfying flavour explosion.

Umami really comes to out to play in this quick but rich stew, with coconut milk, tomatoes, and soy and fish sauces all providing savoury synergy. Thai basil is a favourite of mine and here it brings vibrancy, while the spices add a darting lift.

Thai Basil and Coconut Chicken Stew

Serves 2

6 boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons garlic paste
4 tablespoons ginger paste
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon white pepper, plus extra to season
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to season
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 long red (Thai) chillies, finely chopped with seeds (keep back a few slices to garnish)
100g Thai basil leaves, finely chopped, plus extra to garnish
1 × 400g tin of full-fat coconut milk
300ml chicken stock
10 mixed-colour cherry tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon light brown soft sugar
Steamed vegetables and boiled jasmine rice, to serve

Place the diced chicken into a bowl and add the garlic, ginger, ground coriander, white pepper and salt and mix well. Leave to marinate overnight if you have time, but for at least 10 minutes.

When you’re ready to cook, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium–high heat. Add in the marinated chicken and fry it for 5–6 minutes, turning, until the chicken begins to brown.

Add the chillies and half of the basil, followed by the coconut milk and chicken stock. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, and simmer for a further 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are just softened and the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the stew from the heat, season with salt and extra white pepper, and stir through the remainder of the basil. Scatter over the extra basil leaves and the chilli slices to garnish.

Serve with steamed vegetables and cooked jasmine rice.


Download the recipe

Read more about Life Kitchen

Small Pleasures: Joyful Recipes for Difficult Times by Ryan Riley is on sale now. (Bloomsbury Publishing, Hardback, £22) Photography by Craig Robertson

In addition, Life Kitchen now has a range of taste enhancing products available online and instore in Holland & Barrett, these 6 products allow you to elevate your dishes readily and easily in the Life Kitchen way and also include Ryan’s signature Miso White Chocolate berries in the form of a chocolate bar as an extra special way to treat yourself and raise your mood.