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Providing Nutritional Meals for Cancer Patients
By Leesha Lentz

After working 25 years on Wall Street in the healthcare business industry, Susan Bratton created her own company called Meals to Heal, which provides nutritious meals and snacks for cancer patients.

Bratton started the Manhattan-based company after witnessing her close friend Eric lose his battle with a brain tumor. “After treatment, he developed pretty severe nutritional issues, which is common in cancer patients, and didn’t realize it at the time,” she explains. “We tried to help him with his dietary issues, but it was very difficult finding information, and there was no [meal program] that would cater to cancer patients.”

Through extensive research, Bratton learned that 50% to 80% of cancer patients experience nutritional issues like Eric did. “Malnutrition is the second highest dietary diagnosis in cancer patients,” Bratton says, “and one-third of all cancer deaths are due to malnutrition.”

Armed with these facts, Bratton hired a team of dietitians certified as oncology specialists and an oncology-certified nurse to assemble delicious, high-quality meals that can be delivered throughout the contiguous 48 states.

“Meals to Heal fills a gap that’s much needed [to be filled] in the cancer community, a complete solution to the needs of cancer patients: evidence-based information, access to credentialed nutrition professionals and, most importantly, affordable delivery of fresh, healthful, and well-balanced meals,” says Jessica Iannotta, MS, RD, CSO, CDN, chief clinical officer at Meals to Heal. “Registered dietitians nationwide now have the service we’ve been searching for.”

Meals to Heal offers five- and seven-day meal plans, which include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks per day that cost around $8 per meal/snack. Meals can be ordered online at www.meals-to-heal.com. Ordering is tailored to the patient and his or her needs. Bratton says the company “serves all types of cancer patients. A patient can set up an account online and provide us with information such as diagnosis, stage, treatment regimen, reported nutritional side effects, and eating preferences.”

“Our meals are tailored to help patients manage common side effects of cancer treatment,” Iannotta says, “and [they] take the guess work out of planning and preparing healthful meals during or after cancer treatment.”

For example, if a patient has mouth sores or reports problems with swallowing, Meals to Heal will recommend foods that are softer and easier to consume. If a patient has questions about his or her meal plan or just wants to discuss options, that patient can contact the clinical team either through phone or e-mail.

The company also offers sample-tasting packages, priced at $125, for those who’d like to try 10 meals before committing to a weekly meal plan. “The package is a great way for people to sample and determine whether or not it’s their cup of tea,” Bratton says.

Meals to Heal also will be offering a dinner-only option for patients who are too tired to cook at the end of a long day. “This situation is common in many patients and, therefore, caused a need for a dinner-only option,” Bratton says. “They’re the same tasty and well-balanced meals offered in the full-day option.”

Once customers learn about the nutritional benefits, they can easily decide on a meal plan. The meals and snacks offer about 1,800 to 2,000 kcal daily, and they’re based on the Mediterranean diet. “We decided to base the meals on the Mediterranean diet because of its proven health benefits in preventing diabetes and heart disease as well as cancer potentially,” Bratton explains. “It provides a significant benefit for a wide range of customers. Patients, caregivers, and family members will benefit from this type of balanced diet. It also emphasizes colorful plant foods, which have many cancer-fighting properties. In addition, the Mediterranean diet is tasty and appealing to many different palates.”

Bratton is a fan of the Three-Bean Chili and the Vegetable Curry dishes, but she’s not alone in touting the tastes and varieties of the other offerings. “Customers really like the Salisbury Steak,” Bratton says. “There’s also something called a Turkey Pepper Pot Pasta that has become really popular.” All the meals mentioned, except for the Vegetable Curry, are part of the sample tasting package.

If family members or friends would like to introduce cancer patients to these meals, gift cards are available through the website. Bratton knows that in the journey to recovery, any small peace of mind, such as not having to worry about what foods to prepare, can really help patients and caregivers. “It speaks to the fact that when someone is diagnosed with any illness, friends and family want to help out,” she says.

From the gift cards to the website, which is a mecca not only for meals but also for nutritional information, it’s clear that Bratton and her team are providing the care that cancer patients need. “There are great studies showing that cancer patients who receive nutritional intervention through food and dietetic counseling have much better outcomes,” she says.

Four years ago, when Eric was first diagnosed, Bratton felt helpless. With Meals to Heal, she’s helping to ensure that no cancer patient or his or her friends and family will ever have to experience that feeling.

— Leesha Lentz is a recent graduate of Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and an editorial intern at Great Valley Publishing Company.