nutrition, kids with cancer

Nutrition Tips For Kids With Cancer

People who aren’t familiar with cancer treatment may think that patients only struggle to gain weight because of chemo side effects. But the opposite can be true as well. Some treatments can lead to weight gain.

It can be a crazy rollercoaster. The medications they’re on determine what their dietary and nutritional dilemmas may be.

No matter which end of the spectrum you may be facing, as a parent of a childhood cancer patient, making sure your child gets the right nutrition can be a challenge.

Here are some nutrition tips to help with weight loss or weight gain in kids with cancer.

Why Some Kids With Cancer Gain Weight During Treatment

Weight gain can be a major issue for kids who are on steroids. It may seem like some of these kids will eat their parents out of house and home.

The change in weight can become a body image issue as well. Steroids can cause their faces and bellies to puff up, which can be very hard for kids, especially teenagers.

kids with cancer

1. Make Healthy Food Choices.

Teaching your child how to make smart, healthy decisions when it comes to nutrition can help. If you’re not sure what kind of advice is best, you may want to see a dietitian. Dietitians can also help you and your child come up with nutrition goals, such as limiting calorie intake.

2. Tackle Cravings.

Steroids have been known to cause strong food cravings. Sometimes, kids just aren’t happy unless they’re getting that bag of potato chips or McDonald’s french fries, or whatever it is that they’re craving.

These cravings tend to gravitate toward starches and proteins. So again, knowing how to make smart choices within those categories can help minimize weight gain.

3. Limit Sodium.

Limiting the amount of salt and sodium these kids consume can also help with weight gain. That’s because high sodium intake can increase the body’s water retention.

So, cutting down on sodium can help decrease their water weight gain.

Why Some Kids With Cancer Lose Weight (Or Struggle To Gain Weight) During Treatment

On the other hand, chemo and other treatments can cause nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. This can lead to difficulty with developmentally appropriate weight gain. Kids can start to lose a lot of weight during treatment as well.

But because kids’ bodies are still growing and developing, it’s important to make sure they’re still getting the proper nutrition they need to promote that growth.

kids with cancer

1. Eat Small, Frequent Meals.

If your child’s appetite is decreased, encourage her to eat small, frequent meals instead of sitting her down in front of a huge meal. Some of these kids just don’t feel hungry.

If you can get her to eat a little bit of something every two to three hours, she might get more calories than she would otherwise.

2. Find Calorie-Dense Foods.

Look for ways to get as many calories as possible in the smallest amount of food. For instance, substitute whole milk for skim milk.

Find foods that taste good to your child and figure out ways to make them more calorie-dense. If he likes milkshakes, blend a Carnation Instant Breakfast drink with some whole milk and a scoop of ice cream to make it as calorie-filled as possible.

3. See A Dietitian.

Here at Children’s, we have dietitians who can calculate calorie and nutrition goals for your child. They may have you keep track of what your kids are eating, so we can see how they’re doing.

The dietitians are always happy to meet with our kids and their parents, and help them come up with strategies to increase calorie intake.

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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