Nutritional Requirements for a Child With Cancer
The importance of good nutrition:Good nutrition is very important for children being treated for cancer. Children with cancer often have poor appetites due to one, or more, of the following:
- the hospital environment
- side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation
- changes in the cells of the mouth which may alter the way food tastes
- side effects from medications
- inadequate absorption of calories, vomiting, and diarrhea
- better tolerate chemotherapy or radiation and with fewer side effects.
- grow and develop.
- maximize quality of life.
Special diets for children with cancer:Children with cancer often have increased calorie and protein needs. Protein is needed for growth and to help the body repair itself. Getting enough calories can help the body grow, heal, and prevent weight loss. If your child is having trouble eating enough calories and protein, your child's physician or dietitian may suggest serving high-calorie and high-protein foods (i.e., eggs, milk, peanut butter, and cheese).
Sometimes, even when high-calorie and high-protein foods are offered, children with cancer have trouble eating enough. Tube feedings may be necessary to help provide your child with adequate nutrition or to prevent malnutrition. This involves placing a small tube (called a nasogastric, or NG tube) through the nose, down the esophagus and into the stomach. A high-calorie formula or supplement can be given to your child through this tube to help promote appropriate growth and development.
Children undergoing treatment for cancer sometimes need total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to help meet their nutritional needs. TPN is a special mixture of glucose, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals that are given through an IV into the veins. Many people call this "intravenous feedings." TPN provides the nutrients your child needs when he/she cannot eat or absorb the nutrients from foods. The TPN solution is usually infused continuously over several hours of the day.
Managing treatment side effects and maintaining proper nutrition:Your child's cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery) may cause side effects that make it difficult to eat enough food. The following are some of the side effects and ideas on how to manage them:
- Try smaller, more frequent meals and snacks.
- Try changing the time, place, and surrounding of meals.
- Let your child help with shopping and preparing meals.
- Offer high-calorie, high-protein meals and snacks.
- Avoid forcing your child to eat - this may make your child's appetite worse.
- Make meal time a happy time.
- Use soft foods that are easy to chew.
- Avoid foods that may cause irritation to the mouth, including the following:
- citrus fruits or juices (i.e., orange, tangerine, grapefruit)
- spicy or salty foods
- rough, course, or dry foods (i.e., raw vegetables, crackers, toast)
- Cut foods into small pieces.
- Serve foods cold or at room temperature - hot foods may irritate the mouth and throat.
- Use a blender to make foods softer and easier to chew.
- Add sauces or gravies to food to make them easier to swallow.
- Offer salty or seasoned foods.
- Use flavorful seasoning on foods.
- Marinate meats in fruit juice, teriyaki sauce, or Italian dressing.
- Try serving foods at different temperatures.
- Offer foods that look and smell good.
- Keep your child's mouth clean by rinsing and brushing.
- Try sweet or sour foods and drinks such as lemonade.
- Offer hard candy, popsicles, or chewing gum.
- Offer softer foods that may be easier to swallow.
- Keep your child's lips moist with lip balm.
- Offer small, frequent sips of water.
- Offer foods that have more liquid in them.
- Try easy-to-digest food such as clear liquids, gelatin, toast, rice, dry cereals, and crackers.
- Avoid foods that are fried, greasy, very sweet, spicy, hot, or strong-flavored.
- Offer small, frequent meals.
- Offer sips of water, juices, sports drinks, or other beverages throughout the day.
- Try to avoid high-fiber foods including the following:
- nuts and seeds
- whole grains
- dried beans and peas
- raw fruits and vegetables
- Try to limit greasy, fatty, or fried foods.
- Limit gassy foods, including the following:
- Offer small, frequent meals and liquids throughout the day.
- Limit milk and milk products if lactose intolerance is a problem.
- Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day.
- Include high-fiber foods, including the following:
- whole grain breads and cereals
- raw fruits and vegetables
- raisins and prunes
- Drink plenty of fluids; hot drinks are sometimes helpful.
- Keep the skin on vegetables when cooking them.
- Add bran or wheat germ to foods such as casseroles, cereals, or homemade breads.
- Use a soft tooth brush and take your child to the dentist regularly.
- Encourage rinsing the mouth with warm water when gums and mouth are sore.
- Encourage brushing teeth after eating meals and sweets.
- Limit foods that stick to the teeth such as caramels, taffy, gummy candy, or chewy candy bars.
Every child is different and every child tolerates treatment differently. Your child's physician and healthcare team will discuss the best method of promoting a healthy nutritional status during your child's treatment.
The information on this Web page is provided for educational purposes. You understand and agree that this information is not intended to be, and should not be used as, a substitute for medical treatment by a health care professional. You agree that Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital is not making a diagnosis of your condition or a recommendation about the course of treatment for your particular circumstances through the use of this Web page. You agree to be solely responsible for your use of this Web page and the information contained on this page. Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital, its officers, directors, employees, agents, and information providers shall not be liable for any damages you may suffer or cause through your use of this page even if advised of the possibility of such damages.