Loss of appetite and weight in childhood cancer - nutrition advice

Loss of appetite and weight in childhood cancer - nutrition advice

During treatment, there can be a loss of the desire for food (loss of appetite) and an inability to eat enough food resulting in a decreased calorie intake and subsequent weight loss. Some ideas that can help ensure an adequate intake of calories.

How can I make sure my child has enough calories?

During treatment, there can be a loss of the desire for food (loss of appetite) and an inability to eat enough food resulting in a decreased calorie intake and subsequent weight loss. The following are ideas that can help ensure an adequate intake of calories:

  • offer five or six mini meals a day, rather than three normally sized meals a day
  • make healthy high-energy snacks (see below for ideas) for your child to eat between meals
  • give nourishing drinks (see below for ideas) for your child to sip slowly throughout the day
  • keep serve sizes smaller than usual - this can be more appetising
  • add butter, cream or grated cheese to foods if your child can manage them, to increase the number of calories in the meal

High energy snacks

  • crackers with cheese and butter, or peanut butter or cheese spread
  • pikelets or pancakes with jam or chocolate spread
  • popcorn with butter or icing sugar
  • quick-cooking noodles with butter or cream and grated cheese
  • ice-cream, even better in a cone
  • mini muffins
  • corn chips with melted cheese
  • dips (such as avocado with sour cream or cream cheese base) served with chips or vegetables
  • sweet dips (such as cream cheese and chocolate or chocolate spread) with biscuits or chunks of fresh fruit
  • banana cut into rounds and rolled in coconut or powdered chocolate flavouring such as Milo
  • waffles with maple syrup
  • toasted fruit bread with butter
  • cream-based soup like cream of pumpkin or cream of tomato
  • little tubs of custards or yoghurts – stir in a teaspoon of cream for extra calories
  • breakfast cereal with milk and cream
  • pizza slices /  fingers

High energy drinks

  • milkshakes - full cream milk with added ice-cream, cream or yoghurt and flavouring
  • fruit smoothies - banana or strawberries blended with milk
  • yogurt smoothies - fruit juice, yogurt and fresh fruit mixed
  • the supplements for adding to drinks which may be advised by a dietitian

How can I encourage my child to eat?

It is (mostly) possible to continue the usual family routines at mealtimes, even when one of your children has cancer and is experiencing problems. Sharing this time together can shift the focus away from food and can help lessen and disguise feelings of anxiety. Sometimes though, parents / caregivers find that flexibility is the way to promote a relaxed atmosphere.
The following are some ideas which may make it easier for your child to eat and easier for you to feel positive:

  • tell your child they have done well, even if they eat only a small amount
  • present food in new and different ways - try things like fancy drinking straws, decorated cups and plates, food cut into interesting shapes
  • invite your child to help prepare food with you
  • try to keep the normal mealtime routine for your family and encourage sitting with the rest of the family to talk
  • introduce some fun meals like picnics, video nights and party settings with your child helping to choose the foods served
  • use the time when your child is feeling well to boost their food intake

You can read more in the following fact sheeet:

Where to go for information and support

On this website

Acknowledgements

All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the nurses' working group of the Paediatric Oncology Steering Group (POSG) of the Children's Cancer Services in New Zealand. Medical information is authorised by the POSG chair.

 

 

This page last reviewed 16 October 2013.
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