In the past, you may have promised yourself that you and your family will start eating a more healthy and nutritious diet – now is the time to put that promise into action.
Eating well can combat fatigue, help your child feel better, and keep their body strong so that they can cope more easily with the side effects of their treatment. It can also help your child heal and recover more readily from their cancer treatment.
Your child’s reaction to food may differ from other children who have the exact same diagnosis – some children continue to enjoy eating and maintain a strong appetite. Others want to eat well but are unable to do so. Feelings of fear and anxiety may complicate the desire to eat.
Nausea, in particular, can interfere with eating well. During treatment, some children may experience nausea or vomiting while others may never have either. If your child feels sick to his/her stomach between meals, it may help for them to eat six to eight small meals during the day rather than three large meals. Avoid giving them foods that are very sweet, greasy, fried or emit a strong smell.
And finally, keep in mind that your child’s dietary changes do not have to be dramatic. Begin with the item that is easiest for them or your family, then choose another after a few weeks, and then another. Before you know it, your whole family will have moved into a healthier eating pattern.
Keys to a Healthier Diet
Remove White Food From Your Diet
White food tends to be processed food, low in nutrients and high in sugar. White bread is probably the easiest item to immediately identify and eliminate. But don’t take all bread from your diet – grains can be an important source of fiber, selenium and vitamins B and E. Try different wheat breads to see which you like best.
Select Fruits and Vegetables with Vivid Colours
The more intense the colour of a fruit or vegetable, the higher the nutritional content is. Choose dark leafy greens, peas, edamame or spinach for vitamins B and C, iron, protein and fiber.
Don’t shy away from canned vegetables, especially if they make your life easier right now. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a healthy alternative.
Try the “3-colors-a-day” trick as an easy way of ensuring fruits and vegetables make it to your menu. For example:
- blueberries (1) with breakfast,
- dark leafy lettuce (2) on your sandwich at lunch,
- red peppers (3) with chicken at dinner.
How many colours did you eat today?
Become Aware of Phytochemicals
“Phyto” means plant. Phytochemicals are nutrients derived from plants, and they are healthy buzzwords in nutrition and cancer research.
Phytochemicals appear to stimulate the immune system, exhibit antibacterial and antiviral activity, and, in general, help your body fight cancer.
Some foods these are found in are:
- onions, garlic, leeks,
- chives, carrots, sweet potatoes,
- apricots, tea, coffee,
- citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower),
- berries, beans and whole grains
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Nutritionists aren’t kidding when they tell us our bodies need at least 8 glasses of fluid a day.
During chemotherapy, additional fluids are needed to replace fluid lost through treatment side effects. The weight gain and puffiness caused by steroids might tempt your child to skimp on drinking water. Don’t let them – avoiding water now will only worsen the side effects.
Eat Healthy Fats
Healthy fat, like Omega-3, may increase the activity of the immune system’s natural killer cells. Flaxseed is the richest plant source of these healthy Omega-3 fats.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed or flaxmeal a day into your child’s morning breakfast cereal, or use ground flaxmeal in a smoothie.
Oily fish, such as lake trout, herring and sardines, as well as canola and walnut oil are all excellent sources of Omega-3 fats.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
This is a tip with a built-in reward. No one can eat healthy all the time; sometimes your child will have a hard time sticking to the plan, or may not feel well.
If you can make healthy selections for your child 80% of the time, you can allow them to make less healthy choices 20% of the time. Knowing there is some wiggle room allows you to make healthier choices for your child long term so that they do not feel constricted or deprived.