Cancer patients find new tools for navigating treatment: healthy cooking classes

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Chef Mike’s Roasted Walnut Lentil Tacos with Honey Lime Slaw (Credit: Elijah Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)

Jeff Gross of East Cobb is honing his cooking skills, making Chef Mike Bacha’s vegan walnut lentil tacos with a honey lime slaw at the Cancer Support Community in Atlanta run by Northside Hospital.

The fancy, healthy recipe is a result of a 67-year-old married father of two learning to navigate life with cancer.

“It’s coming up on five years this month,” Gross says. “Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer.”

FILE – An adult male chest x-ray.

Gross is on a targeted treatment that he says is working, and he is taking nutrition classes here as a way to control what he can as he learns to live with lung cancer.

“I think diet is the trigger to that,” Gross says.

Northside Hospital registered dietitian Kristin Cuculovski says for a long time, cancer treatment centers just assumed patients would lose weight and become malnourished.

But, Cuculovski says there is a growing realization that teaching cancer patients how to eat nutritional meals can help them cope better with treatment.

“The American Institute for Cancer Research, their big recommendation is to follow more of a plant-based diet,” Cuculovski says. “That doesn’t have to be vegan or vegetarian. It’s more of that focus on adding more plant foods. How many plants can we get on a daily basis to provide those extra vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients?”

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For Gross, walnut lentil tacos may have felt like a stretch. Or, at least at first they did.

“I grew up on a pretty heavy meat-eating diet,” he says.

But, with his wife Laurel’s nudging, and classes like this one, he says he is gradually changing the way he cooks and eats.

“I don’t use much red meat,” Gross says. “I eat smaller portions of red meat than I used to, and way more and fruits and vegetables. And, I think this is a journey that I [will] continue on,”

Some of his classmates are eating a 100% plant-based diet.

Gross says his diet is about 30% vegetarian.

“But honestly, what I think everyone’s trying to do is strengthen their immune system, so that you’ve got the best chance of being the warrior you want to be,” Gross says.

Eating healthier is helping him get there.

“I feel very good, and I feel strong,” he said.

Chef Mike’s Roasted Walnut Lentil Tacos with Honey Lime Slaw (Credit: Elijah Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)

Try Chef Mike’s recipes for yourself


  • Lentils are packed with nutrients and serve as both a plant-based protein and a fiber source.
  • The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, such as lentils, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, to reduce cancer risk.
  • Plant-based foods are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals that can help protect us against cancer.
  • Plant foods can help us manage our weight as well because they tend to be lower in calories and keep us feeling full longer due to their fiber content.
  • In addition to being high in fiber, lentils are also high in iron, folate, potassium and manganese.
  • Lentils contain soluble fiber which can also help lower cholesterol levels.



  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cups mushrooms (140g) (cremini preferred), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • ¼ cup onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 cup of brown lentils
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoonhoney
  • 3 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts, minced
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes, minced
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 10 taco shells or 6″ tortillas
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves

Chef Mike’s Honey Lime Slaw (Credit: Elijah Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)


  • Heat olive oil in a pan over med-high heat. Add mushrooms to pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes until their liquid starts to evaporate
  • Add chili powder and cumin, stirring constantly for about 1 minute
  • Add onions and garlic to sauté until translucent, about 3-4 minutes
  • Add lentils and water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer
  • While the lentils are cooking, make slaw by mixing lime juice and honey together then stir in cabbage, carrot, and cucumber and set aside
  • When the lentils are tender but not falling apart, 30-40 min stir in toasted walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, yeast and salt
  • Fill each taco shell with about 3 tablespoons of taco filling, then top with prepared slaw and garnish with cilantro

Serving Size: 2 tacos

Yield: 10 tacos, or 5 servings

Chef Mike’s Roasted Strawberry Muffins (Credit: Elijah Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)


  • This recipe is lower in fat than regular muffins because it uses low fat yogurt and apple sauce in place of oil
  • This recipe also incorporates whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour to add additional fiber
  • Strawberries are lower in calories and natural sugar and are packed with vitamin C and other antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, which may help reduce cancer risk. (This point is included for the lentils but is true here too! The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, like lentils, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, to reduce cancer risk.)
  • Honeysuckle is a low-calorie food that adds a nice flavor to recipes. It contains antioxidants such as vitamin A and quercetin to help reduce damage from free radicals in our bodies.



  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon melted margarine or butter
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups roasted strawberries

Chef Mike’s Roasted Strawberry Muffins (Credit: Elijah Jordan, FOX 5 Atlanta)


  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Add muffin liners to the pan
  • In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder and sugar
  • In a separate bowl mix melted butter, egg, yogurt, lemon zest, applesauce, vanilla extract until fully combined
  • Add the liquid mixture to the dry mixture and stir to gently combine. This is a thick, lumpy, cookie dough-like batter. Don’t overmix.
  • Gently stir in roasted strawberries
  • Scoop and bake 350 for 14 minutes, or until done


Additional flavors if you want to experiment:

  • ½ teaspoon of coriander
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seed

Muffin liners work best, but if you don’t have any, just grease the pan with pan spray or oil and dust with flour.