What to Eat – Seasonal Treats

Seeing as we’re getting into the holiday season, I thought I’d share some seasonal treats that I’ve found that aren’t awful on the taste buds when on chemos or other drugs that alter taste. Different chemos cause different taste issues, and everyone’s experiences are different. For me, sweet things are now even more intensely sweet and/or rich than they were before. Chemo dulls some flavors and intensifies others. For me, the chemos I’ve been given make food and drinks taste salty, metallic and now soapy.


Note: The website will give you the base nutrition information about the drinks, and I found that it’s not inclusive of all that’s on the menu without doing a search of the site. The mobile app, however, is up to date. The only thing it doesn’t do that I’d like it to is tell you the nutrition information after you’ve selected the customizations (i.e., dropped the amount of syrup or eliminated add-ins.)

Confession. I don’t drink coffee. I like the smell of it but can’t stand the taste. So all of the drinks I’m going to tell you about are not going to have any coffee in them. If you’re a coffee person, and it’s still working for you, you’ll have some additional alternatives.

The main thing to keep in the back of your mind about Starbucks is that their main purpose seems to be foo-foo drinks that are laden with lots of extra calories and a ton of sugar. While they will sell you a straight cup of coffee, their bread and butter are all those lattes and macchiatos.

Full Disclosure: As a life-long tea drinker who takes it straight up with no sugar, who more or less cut out sodas many, many years ago, I’m not a big fan of all the extra sweetener that goes into the majority of their drinks in the first place and generally have them skip or significantly reduce the amount of sweetener they add to everything. Diabetes also runs in my family so I’ve always paid extra attention to the amount of carbs and sugars in a lot of foods well before the chemo aspect was even a consideration. The chemo side effects have just made this process more necessary.

  • Grande Caramel Apple Spice – Steamed, freshly pressed apple juice and cinnamon syrup. Topped with sweetened whipped cream and caramel drizzle.
  • Made the way that it’s on the menu, it’s 380 calories and includes 77 g of carbs and 71 g of sugar. How I order it: I don’t get the point of putting whipped cream in my apple juice, and I’m removing so much of what makes this drink what it is, that I’m paying for a lot that I’m not getting, so… I no longer order the actual Caramel Apple Spice drink. I’ll order the Steamed Apple Juice below with a couple of adds instead.
  • Grande Steamed Apple Juice – Without anything in it, it’s 220 calories with 55 g of carbs and 50 g of sugar. That sugar is coming only from the apple juice, so theoretically, it’s better for you. How I order it: Add 2 pumps of cinnamon syrup with room. I’ll then ask the barista making the drink to add one little drizzle line of caramel, This little bit of caramel adds just enough flavor and sugar to balance out the flavor of the cinnamon syrup. If  Then I go to the drink station, add 2-3 shakes of cinnamon powder and a dash of nutmeg. At this point, taste it and make sure that the concentration works. If it seems too much, add a little water. This option is also just a little bit cheaper, too. Be careful how you order the caramel drizzle. If you tell the person taking your order that you’d like the caramel sauce, you’ll get charged the whole price for the tablespoon or two they put on the other drink. Part of my point in ordering the steamed juice was not to pay for all the extra add-ins and still get a decent tasting drink.
  • Grande Peppermint Cocoa – A classic holiday hot chocolate. Made with chocolate mocha sauce, peppermint-flavored syrup and steamed milk topped with sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate curls.
  • Made the way that it’s on the menu, it’s 470 calories and includes 68 g of carbs and 61 g of sugar. It’s already made with 2% milk, which is fine with me, but you can order it with a milk alternative, or go whole hog and have them use whole milk instead. None of those add to the sugar significantly. They do add fat, which helps metabolize all that extra sugar, and it’s probably more like the hot chocolate we had as kids. How I order it: 2 pumps of mint, 2 pumps of mocha and 1 pump of vanilla syrup. In this case, it’s the vanilla syrup that balances out the mocha and mint flavors, so I leave it and tweak the other two. Give it a taste, and if it’s not how you like it, have them add another pump of either the mocha or the mint, whichever is to your liking. This doesn’t take a ton off the amount of sugar that’s in it, but it does help.
  • Grande Peppermint White Hot Chocolate –  A sweet twist on holiday hot chocolate. Made with white chocolate mocha sauce, peppermint-flavored syrup and steamed milk topped with sweetened whipped cream and dark chocolate curls.
  • Made the way that it’s on the menu, it’s 520 calories and includes 75 g of carbs and 74 g of sugar. Same thing on the milk with this one as the one above. How I order it: 2 pumps of mint, 2 chocolate syrup. Give it a taste, and if it’s not how you like it, have them add another pump of either the chocolate or the mint, whichever is to your liking.
  • Grande Gingerbread Hot Chocolate or Gingerbread Creme – Warm, steamed milk infused with the sweet spiciness of gingerbread flavors, whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. How I order it:  2 pumps of gingerbread syrup.  If I order this a hot chocolate, I order it with 2 pumps of mocha and 2 pumps of gingerbread syrup. The whipped cream negates the need to add vanilla syrup to mellow the flavors.

Hot Teas 

Starbucks has a number of Teavana hot and cold teas available. All of the hot teas by themselves have no calories and no extra sugars. Iced teas can be ordered without any sweeteners. It’s when you ask to add syrup to it that you get the extra sugars.  Also, when ordering hot teas, most Teavana tea bags/sachets can be brewed multiple times, so don’t be afraid to ask for 1 bag and the 2nd bag on the side. You should be able to get at least 4 Venti cups of tea for the price of one this way.

I noticed this year that they are offering some new wellness teas that I don’t remember seeing before like Comfort Wellness Brewed Tea, Citrus Defender and Defense Wellness Brewed Tea. I would talk to my oncologist before ordering these as some of the herbs in them might interact with chemo, radiation or other medications. If they say it’s okay, and you’re into these, they’re a calorie and sugar-free alternative to other drinks offered.

  • Grande Matcha Green Tea Latte – Smooth and creamy matcha is lightly sweetened and served with steamed milk.
  • Made the way that it’s on the menu, it’s 240 calories and includes 34 g of carbs and 32 g of sugar. Same story on the milk with lattes. You can leave it 2% or change it to something else. There is an inherent sweetness to this drink between the milk and the matcha powder, and there aren’t any added syrups to this one. I’ve ordered it with both 2 and 3 scoops of matcha, and it didn’t really make that much difference sweetness-wise, so it’s all about preference for this drink.
  • Chai Teas and Lattes – I know a lot of people love Chai teas. I’ll have one once in a blue moon. When I’m ordering these, I’ll do the same as the other hot drinks with syrups and knock the syrup down by half.

Bakery Items

These items are for the most part, holiday offerings and these particular flavors tend to work better than some of the standards when on chemo. Because they are more location-dependent and you just buy them from the case without needing to change anything, so I’m giving you the list without links to each one individually.

  • Apple Cider Donut
  • Cranberry Bliss Bars
  • Gingerbread
  • Almond Croissants
  • Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop
  • Iced Lemon Loaf Cake
  • Maple Pecan Muffins – Want a special treat? Mix this into some plain oatmeal for breakfast.
  • Sugar Cookies


Ice Creams

There are a lot of holiday ice creams that are really nice for people on chemo with taste issues. I tend to like mint and peppermint all year round, so those are my first go-to this time of year.

  • Haggen Dazs has a new limited edition flavor called Peppermint Bark. Celebrate the season with our rendition of this holiday classic. Rich white chocolate ice cream is blended with crunchy chocolaty peppermint bark and peppermint candy pieces.
    Available in 14 oz and in bars. My local grocery stores all carry it.
  • Recipe: Peppermint Bark Ice Cream Float
  • FatBoy Peppermint Sandwiches – Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have FatBoy Peppermint Ice Cream Sandwiches and bars. They’re a really nice treat and an alternative to the standard mint chocolate chip sandwiches. They are 230 calories, 37 g of carbs and 20 g of sugar, so a nice little dessert after dinner to cleanse the palette.
  • Blue Bell Peppermint Bark Ice Cream – A smooth mint ice cream loaded with luscious dark chocolate chunks and tasty white chocolate chunks containing crushed peppermint candies. There’s good news and bad news about being able to get your mitts on this ice cream. Your local store isn’t going to carry it if you’re not mostly South of the Mason-Dixon Line. The good news is that they’ll ship it direct. 😀 Don’t get freaked by the notice about Thanksgiving shipping. They ship all year round.

Limited Edition Candies

This is the time of year for holiday candies, too. Mostly those with peppermint or candy cane flavors are things that I’ll look for because a tree-shaped peanut butter cup is still a peanut butter cup. If it came with toffee or hot buttered rum I’d get more excited.

There are lots of other localized treats that I’m sure can be found that will work and satisfy any sweet cravings.


  • Trader Joe’s Cookie Thins Triple Ginger Thins & Ginger Snaps- Trader Joe’s carries these all year round. They are good a nice, light dessert. Unfortunately, you won’t find anything about these on their website, so you’ll either have to go to a Trader Joe’s or order them from Amazon.
  • Anna’s Ginger Thins Swedish Cookies -A wonderful mixture of spices: cinnamon, sugar, and cloves. They are still carefully crafted, always using traditional baking trays which gives the Swedish Thins their delicate crispness.
  • Anna’s Almond – Annas Almond is the classic Swedish ginger thins with a hint of almond. It’s the perfect choice for parties and traditional festivities or as an enjoyable treat any time.
  • These cookies are very similar to the Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Thins and are available in other stores, including Walmart, Target, Rite-Aid, Walgreens and most grocery stores.
  • Pamela’s Gluten-Free Pecan Shortbread Cookies – I picked these for the list because they were 100x better than the Keebler version, which used to be my go-to. Aside from that, there are a number of holiday cookies that are essentially shortbreads. Like Russian Teacakes or Mexican Wedding Cookies. If you’re not up for making cookies, these are a good alternative if your store carries them.

Cakes and Cupcakes

This time of year there are a few places that carry spice cakes that are a nice change of pace from the typical flavors. Here are a few that my local custom cupcake stores are carrying.

  • Almond Amaretto
  • Apple Spice
  • Apple Crisp
  • Apple Cider
  • Caramel Apple
  • Caramel Apple Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
  • Carrot Cake with Spiced Buttercream
  • Cranberry Orange
  • Gingerbread
  • Chocolate Gingerbread
  • Gingerbread Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
  • Eggnog
  • Chocolate Mint
  • Creme de Menthe
  • Chocolate Orange
  • Peppermint Stick
  • Peppermint Hot Chocolate
  • Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake
  • Pecan Pie
  • White Chocolate Cranberry
  • Mexican Hot Chocolate
  • Hot Chocolate Cupcakes with Marshmallow Buttercream
  • Chocolate Bourbon Pecan
  • Lemon

Happy Holidays!!


About Pink Ribbon Road

This blog is about receiving and living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
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