Diet and nutrition is very important during childhood because they are still growing and developing. Good nutrition is particularly important when a child has cancer because the child’s growing body also has to cope with the various treatments and the side effects that come with them. The focus should be on preventing, or treating cancer related malnutrition, as prevention is always better than cure.
Not all children react to cancer treatment in the same way. Many children have no problem with nutrition and are able to eat enough and have the strength and energy to maintain their normal levels of activity. However, some children lose weight, grow slowly, frequently feel tired or irritable and get infections more easily. These can all be signs of poor nutrition.
Most of the common side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, diarrhoea or constipation, poor appetite, altered sense of taste, dislike of hospital food, disruption of normal routines and fatigue, will inevitably affect your child’s nutrition. At times, due to the side effects of treatment, your child will simply be unable to eat or will not feel like eating anything.
We understand that this situation may cause you, as parents, to worry about your child. However, try not to put pressure on your child to eat. This will only cause more anxiety and unnecessary stress. Remember that children of all ages learn very quickly to manipulate worried parents by not eating.
On the days your child is eating, try to make sure that everything they eat is high in calories and nourishment, to help make up for those periods when your child does not eat. Keep in mind that the basis of a balanced diet, include fish, meat, chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals.
Nutritional supplements can be useful when your child refuses food because they provide many nutrients in small volumes.
Supplements usually come in the form of beverages that can be given as a snack or meal replacement, but they are also available as candy bars or puddings. However, do not give any supplements before discussing it with your doctor and dietician.
(Source: CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation SA)