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Categories > Cancer > Childhood cancers

Good nutrition for ailing children
Meeting special needs
Strategies for eating

Not enough or too much
Not enough or too much

How well a child takes to the challenge of eating depends greatly on how he or she feels. A child might be too sick and disinterested to even swallow. In this case, a feeding tube can be used to give nutritious liquids to the child. The tube is small enough to allow the child to eat by mouth whenever possible.

Children taking steroids during therapy often have the opposite reaction: Their appetites become enormous, causing weight gain and bloating. In this case, salty snacks, frozen dinners and soda should be avoided in favor of fresh fruit, vegetables, low-sodium soup, dairy products and pasta.

For parents of a child with cancer, ensuring their youngster’s good nutrition is at once a priority and a challenge. They may wonder: What foods will help our child fight the disease best? How can we prevent weight loss? How can we encourage him or her to eat despite nausea or loss of appetite?

Their concerns are well founded, as a child undergoing cancer therapy needs as much as 50 percent more protein and 20 percent more calories than a child of the same age who’s cancer free.

Meeting special needs

Good nutrition confers a multitude of benefits to the child battling cancer—better tolerance of therapy, less severe side effects and more energy. So how can parents make nutrition satisfying, effective and appealing for their child?

For starters, they can ask doctors and registered dietitians to help devise menus that provide the essential nutrients all children with cancer require, including:

  • proteins for tissue repair, growth and boosting the immune system
  • carbohydrates and fats to supply the calories needed to speed healing and provide energy
  • water and juice to prevent dehydration
  • vitamins and minerals that provide the essential building blocks for restoring good health

Strategies for eating

Routine dietary guidelines go out the window, frankly, when a youngster develops cancer. Instead, parents can resort to feeding their little patient whenever and whatever he or she wants. Even a diet of pudding, fruit roll-ups, breakfast cereals and junk food takes on nutritional significance.

In helping a child eat adequately, parents mustn’t turn mealtimes into standoffs. The American Cancer Society recommends meals be lighthearted and comfortable for the child. Some tips that work:

  • Color their world.Serve meals on multicolored plates and cups that depict a favorite movie star, sports hero or pop-music idol.
  • Be a cut-up.Use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches, desserts, pizza or cheese. Make faces using fruit cocktail or vegetable slices.
  • Take a hike.Pack a picnic basket and enjoy lunch outside, even if it’s in the backyard. Bad weather? Spread out in the living room instead.
  • Ask for help.Let the child help prepare the meal. Better yet: Let the child help shop for foods he or she likes. Ownership often makes meals tastier.
  • Have an open house. Invite friends or schoolmates to eat with the child. This eases the emotional toll of the illness and helps him or her stay involved.