The effects of the many treatments children with cancer often undergo can take a toll on young, developing bodies. For this reason, it's important for kids fighting cancer to make healthy eating a priority. Choosing healthy foods may also ease some of the side effects associated with some cancer treatments. For some kids with cancer, healthy eating may mean avoiding certain foods. For others it could mean finding the right balance of nutrient-rich foods.
Encourage Drinking More Water
Some cancer treatments cause children to vomit or have increased instances of diarrhea. Dry mouth is also sometimes experienced. These are all conditions that can lead to dehydration. Tap or filtered water is the preferred choice, although kids can also get fluids from fruit juices and other liquids like soups. Encourage your child to take regular sips of water even when they don't feel thirsty to maintain sufficient hydration.
Focus On Essential Nutrients
Children, in general, need to have a good balance of healthy nutrients. It's even more important for kids with cancer to get the right mix of essential nutrients from the foods they eat every day. According to the American Cancer Society, children with cancer need to adopt a diet that includes proteins, carbohydrates, healthy (unsaturated) fats, and vitamins and minerals. A lack of protein, in particular, may contribute to muscle breakdown and make it more difficult for tissues affected by cancer to heal.
Deal with Unexpected Weight Gain Early
Some children gain weight with certain cancer treatments. Some cancer-fighting medications also cause fluid retention. If your child is experiencing unusual cravings or showing an increase in their appetite, they may make unhealthy food choices or turn to sugary snacks and processed foods. Doing so can contribute to other problems, including increasing their risk of developing diabetes. Changes to some medicines typically used with chemotherapy treatments may help. Weight gain can also be curbed early before it leads to other health issues, including some that may continue into adulthood, by encouraging children to:
- Go for daily walks or participate more in favorite activities (with doctor approval)
- Opt for fruit and other healthy snacks when they do get cravings
- Eat more plant-based foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Limit portion sizes
Even without cancer, children have certain dietary needs that should be met to promote healthy bone growth, tissue healing, and overall physical and emotional health. If you have a child living with cancer, talk to their doctor about what type of diet will likely help them deal maintain their health as much as possible while undergoing treatment. Input from a dietician or nutritionist may also be helpful.