Nutrition is an important part of the health of all children, but it is especially important for Children with Cancer, who often have poor appetites as a result of the cancer itself, or due to the side-effects of the cancer treatments.
Both cancer and its treatments may affect a child’s appetite, tolerance to foods, and their body’s ability to use nutrients. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after treatment can help a child feel better and stay stronger.
For parents of Children with Cancer, the challenges of enticing children to eat nutritious, healthy foods are even greater than those faced by parents of healthy children, and require untold levels of patience and creativity to overcome.
Cancer and cancer treatments can also affect the way your child’s body tolerates certain foods and its ability to process, store and appropriately use nutrients at a time when your child’s body needs the energy and nutrients from a healthy diet more than ever.
The nutrient needs of Children with Cancer vary from child to child. Your child’s doctor, nurses, and a registered dietitian can help identify nutrition goals and plan ways to help your child meet them.
If a Child with Cancer maintains adequate nutrition, then he/she may be more likely to:
- Better tolerate Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy treatments and experience fewer side effects;
- Heal and recover quicker;
- Have less risk of infection during treatment due to an improved immune system;
- Have more strength and energy;
- Keep up their weight and their body’s store of nutrients;
- Keeping up normal Growth and Development; and
- Maximise Quality of Life, including sleeping and working better and being less irritable
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 or prevent weight loss. If your child is having trouble eating enough calories and protein, their physician or dietitian may suggest serving high-calorie and high-protein foods (i.e. eggs, milk, peanut butter and cheese).
Increasing Calorie and Protein Intake
High-Protein Foods Include:
- Meats – beef, chicken, fish, turkey, lamb.
- Milk and Cheese – yoghurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese.
- Peanut Butter (with bread or crackers).
- Dried Beans and Peas (with bread, cornbread, rice).
Children younger than 3 years of age should avoid chunky peanut butter, and fruits & vegetables with skin, due to the risk of choking.
Easy Ideas to Increase your Child’s Calorie & Protein Intake
Powdered Milk (33 cal/T, 3 gm protein/T)
- Add 2 – 4 T to 1 cup milk.
- Mix into puddings, potatoes, soups, ground meats, vegetables, cooked cereal, milkshakes, yogurt, and pancake batter.
Eggs (80 cal/egg, 7 gm protein/egg) or egg white
- Add to casseroles, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, cooked cereal, macaroni and cheese and chicken or tuna salads.
- Add extra to French toast and pancake batter.
- Do not use raw eggs in uncooked items. Egg whites may be used in uncooked items, such as milkshakes or eggnog.
Butter or Margarine (45 cal/tsp)
- Add to pudding, stews, sandwiches, vegetables, cooked cereal, breads and pasta.
- Give as snacks, or in sandwiches.
- Add to stews, potatoes, vegetables and soups.
Wheat germ (25 cal/T): Add 1 to 2 T to cereal
- Mix into meat dishes, cookie batter and casseroles.
Mayonnaise or Salad Dressing (45 cal/tsp)
- Use liberally on sandwiches, salads, as a dip for raw vegetables or sauce on cooked vegetables.
Evaporated Milk (25 cal/T, 1 gm protein/T)
- Use in place of whole milk in desserts, baked goods, meat dishes and cooked cereal.
Sour Cream (26 cal/T)
- Add to potatoes, casseroles and dips.
- Use in sauces and baked goods.
Sweetened Condensed Milk (60 cal/T, 1gm protein/T)
- Add to pies, puddings and milkshakes.
- Mix 1 to 2 Tbsp with peanut butter and spread on toast.
Peanut Butter (95 cal/T, 4 gm protein/T)
- Serve on toast, bagels, crackers, bananas, apples, and celery.
Gravies (40 cal/T)
- Use liberally on mashed potatoes, rice, noodles and meats.
The following snack ideas are a good source of calories for children older than 3 years of age. They can be eaten as a meal or in addition to meals.
Cheese Toast (175 cal/slice)
- 28 grams cheese, 1 slice toast.
Peanut Butter & Jam Sandwich and Milk (555 cal)
- 2 slices Bread, 2 T peanut butter, 1 T jam, 225ml full cream milk.
Bagel with cream cheese & Jam and juice (510 cal)
- Bagel, 28 grams cream cheese, 1 T jam & 340ml apple juice.
Pizza (300 cal)
- 2 slices cheese pizza.
- 1 egg, 28 grams cheese and 1 English muffin.
Yoghurt Smoothie (390 cal)
- 225ml Yoghurt, ½ c. single cream, 1 c. frozen strawberries.
Peanut Butter & Banana on Toast (320 cal)
- 2 T peanut butter, 1 banana, 1 slice of toast.
Granola Bar & Yoghurt (480 cal)
- 225ml fruit-flavoured yoghurt and 2 granola bars.
Nachos with Beans & Cheese (560 cal)
- 28 grams tortilla chips, ½ c. refried beans, 70 grams melted cheese & salsa to taste.
Tuna Salad on Crackers (440 cal)
- ½ cup tuna salad, 5 crackers.
Trail Mix (582 cal)
- 1 cup Captain Crunch, 12 almonds, 2 T peanuts, 1/3 c. raisins, ½ c. chocolate chips or M&M’s®.
Chili Cheese Fries (619 cal)
- 1 c. French fries, 100 grams chili, 70 grams melted cheese.
Buttered Popcorn & Grape Slush (600 cal)
- 2 cups popcorn with 2 T melted butter and 1 high-calorie slush (2 grape popsicles, ½ c. grape juice, 2 T corn syrup, and 1 T corn oil, mixed in blender.)
This information is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you have any questions or concerns, you should talk to a doctor, nurse, or dietitian about your child’s nutritional needs.