The Royal Marsden

A day in the life: Shirley Moore, Head Cook, OOCYP

Good nutrition is a vital part of a child’s recovery from cancer, but treatment normally affects the taste buds and makes eating difficult.
Shirley Moore, Paediatric Catering Supervisor

Shirley Moore, Paediatric Catering Supervisor

I have a team of seven and it’s our job to ensure that all the patients are eating well. This can be a challenge, but I love spending time with the children and getting them excited about food. 


Freshly made 

My day starts at 9.30am. We have two kitchens in the Oak Centre for Children and Young People (OCCYP): one in the McElwain Ward and one upstairs in the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit. We offer food to order for all our Day Care patients from 10am until 6pm, and a morning and afternoon snack trolley for the 32 inpatients in the OCCYP.

I’m really proud that all the food is freshly cooked. Lunchtimes can get hectic, but are fun. I once served 18 meals in eight minutes while also on the phone to Day Care! 

I always check that the patients have eaten their lunch and, if not, I will cook whatever they want to get them eating. I’ve had some very unusual requests – one patient craved Brussels sprouts six times a day; another couldn’t decide between a beef burger and a chicken burger, so I made him half-and-half. 

I once served 18 meals in eight minutes while also on the phone to Day Care!

Food and fun 

The first thing children usually go off is chocolate – the chemotherapy makes it taste metallic – and they crave salty foods like crisps. I try to get them to eat things they’ve never had before so they won’t have anything to compare it to. It’s also important to keep up their calorie count, so we offer milkshakes and rich meals such as macaroni cheese. 

If a young patient is not eating, I contact the dietitians, who speak to the family and then advise me. I can usually encourage them; I keep meals small, and I’m a dab hand at ‘smiley face’ dinners with broccoli fangs! 

After the lunchtime rush, I pop into the Play Room and School Room. I work closely with the staff in both, including the nursing staff, and always help out at parties and themed days. I taught the children to make pancakes on pancake day – it was lovely to see them take ownership of their work.


Like a family 

We like to cook a roast dinner on Sundays. The children all sit together – it’s like a home from home. We become a family, which is why it’s such a wonderful place to work, but it’s hard not to get too attached. 

My working day should finish at 6pm, but I rarely leave at that time – if someone hasn’t eaten and asks for a different meal, I can’t resist making it for them. 

Some families have asked if they can adopt me when they leave and have offered to set me up in a ‘granny flat’ at the bottom of their gardens! And one child who started at pre-school after treatment wouldn’t eat the food the school cooked, so the staff had to pretend that I was a chef in their kitchen.

I taught the children to make pancakes on pancake day – it was lovely to see them take ownership of their work.