Nutrition is an important part of your children’s health, but it is essential for children getting cancer treatment and it is important to understand your child’s nutritional needs and how cancer and its treatment may affect them.
The importance of good nutrition
Nutrition plays a vital role in children’s growth and good health, however, consuming sufficient calories and protein is more important for children with cancer since the disease increases their nutritional needs. As we know that every child is unique and tolerates treatment differently, so should be their health plan. Moreover, you should consult your child’s dietician to give you the best diet plan per your child’s needs, a dietitian can determine your child’s specific calorie and protein needs after taking care of all the parameters.
Why is nutrition important for children with cancer?
Children with cancer need proper nutrition to:
- Continue to grow and heal.
- Better tolerate chemotherapy or radiation and experience fewer side effects.
- Maximize quality of life.
- Gain, maintain or lose only a minimal amount of weight.
Children with cancer often have poor appetites due to one, or more, of the following:
- The hospital environment
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
- Side effects of treatment like chemotherapy or radiation
- Changes in food tastes
- Side effects from medicines
Good nutrition helps in:
- Better tolerate chemotherapy or radiation and with fewer side effects
- Heal faster
- Grow and develop
- Maximize their quality of life
Special diets for children with cancer
Children with cancer require more calories and protein. Protein is necessary 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 cannot eat enough calories and protein, your child’s doctor or dietitian may prescribe high-calorie and high-protein foods, such as eggs, milk, peanut butter, and cheese.
Tube feeding for nutrition
Sometimes, even when high-calorie and high-protein foods are offered, children with cancer have trouble eating enough. In such cases, doctors may prescribe tube feeding to help give your child enough nutrition or prevent malnutrition. This involves placing a small tube (called a nasogastric, or NG tube) through the nose, down the food pipe (esophagus), and into the stomach. High-calorie formula or supplement is given to the child through this tube to help promote proper growth and development.
Total parenteral nutrition (TPN)
Children undergoing cancer treatment may need total parenteral nutrition (TPN) sometimes to help meet their nutritional needs. TPN is a unique mixture of glucose, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals given through an IV (intravenous) into the veins. Many people call these “intravenous feedings.” TPN provides the nutrients your child needs when they can’t eat or absorb the nutrients from foods. The TPN solution is usually given over several hours each day. While IV nutrition may seem easy, long-term use can cause side effects, and nothing is better than taking in food and calories through the stomach when possible.
Sometimes due to chemotherapy, blood counts are reduced. During these times, doctors suggest avoiding certain foods like uncooked vegetables and undercooked meats. Make sure to discuss special diet restrictions with your healthcare team.
Managing proper nutrition
Your child’s cancer treatment may cause side effects that make it hard to eat enough food. These are some of the common side effects and ideas for managing them.
Loss of appetite:
- Give smaller, more frequent meals and snacks.
- Change the time, place, and surroundings for meals.
- Take your child’s help in preparing meals.
- Give high-calorie, high-protein meals and snacks.
- Don’t force your child to eat. This may make their appetite worse.
- Make mealtime a happy time.
- Give soft foods that are easy to chew.
- Cut foods into small pieces.
- Avoid citrus fruits or juices (such as orange, tangerine, and grapefruit.
- Don’t have spicy or salty foods.
- Avoid rough, coarse, or dry foods (such as raw vegetables, crackers, pretzels, chips, and toast)
- Serve foods at room temperature. Hot foods may irritate the mouth and throat.
- Use a blender to make foods softer and easier to chew.
- Give salty or seasoned foods.
- Offer flavorful seasoning on foods.
- Try serving foods at different temperatures.
- Give 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.
- Keep your child’s lips moist with lip balm.
- Offer hard candy, popsicles, ice chips, or chewing gum.
- Give softer foods that may be easier to swallow.
- Offer small, frequent sips of water.
- Offer foods that have more liquid in them.
Nausea and vomiting
- Give small, frequent meals.
- Give sips of water, juices, sports drinks, or other beverages throughout the day.
- Try easy-to-digest food such as clear liquids, gelatin, toast, rice, dry cereals, and crackers.
- Avoid fried, greasy, sweet, spicy, hot, or strong-flavoured foods.
Try to avoid high-fiber foods, including:
- 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:
- Offer small, frequent meals and liquids throughout the day.
- Limit milk and milk products if lactose intolerance is a problem.
- Offer plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Offer high-fiber foods, including:
- Whole-grain bread 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 bread.
- Always use a soft toothbrush and take your child to the dentist regularly.
- Encourage rinsing the mouth with warm water when gums and mouth are sore.
- Encourage gently brushing teeth after eating meals and sweets.
- Limit foods that stick to the teeth, such as caramels, taffy, gummy candy, or chewy candy bars.
The treatment of cancer can be challenging for anyone, irrespective of age. Supportive care from your child’s healthcare team can make the nutritional part of treatment less complicated. Suggestions for creating a child-centred environment, making tasty, high-calorie snacks, and possible alternatives to oral nutrition are a part of the supportive care. Every child is different, and every child tolerates treatment in a different way. Your child’s doctor and healthcare team will discuss the best method of promoting healthy nutrition during your child’s treatment.