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Good Nutrition Tips for Kids With Cancer

CancerWise - October 2007

All children need good nutrition to grow, play and learn, but it's even more important for children who are being treated for cancer.

"Children with cancer need a healthy, well-balanced diet adequate in protein and calories," says Kristen Bardon, R.D., a senior clinical dietitian in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at M. D. Anderson. "Protein is important to mend the body, and calories produce energy and help children keep up their weight."

Make healthy decisions

The right dietary choices can help children with cancer:

  • Handle treatments and side effects better
  • Continue to grow and develop
  • Maintain a higher level of energy

Daily recommendations for children include:

  • Two servings of any of the following:
    • Meat
    • Poultry
    • Fish
    • Beans
  • Two servings of dairy products (low-fat or nonfat)
  • Three servings of vegetables
  • Two servings of fruit
  • Six servings of grains, preferably whole grains
  • Small quantities of fats and sweets

Children having difficulty eating might:

  • Add meat and vegetables to favorite dishes
  • Cut meats into smaller pieces
  • Use nuts, eggs or peanut butter instead of meats
  • Dip vegetables in:
    • Melted cheese
    • Yogurt-based dip
    • Avocado dip
  • Make smoothies with milk, yogurt, fruit and ice
  • Fortify foods with milk, cheese, yogurt or cottage cheese

Tasty snacks can be good for you

Good nutrition doesn't mean food can't be fun.

Parents can tempt kids with snacks like:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Milkshakes
  • Ice cream sundaes
  • Milk and cookies
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Root beer floats
  • Cheese toast
  • Cereal with milk

Keep an eye on fats

A small amount of saturated fat is acceptable, but avoid hydrogenated and trans fats. Read labels carefully and teach children how to read them as well.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, including cold-water oily fish (such as salmon), flax seed and flax oil, are beneficial additions to anyone's diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association recommend including seafood in a healthy diet. Avoid fish with high levels of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.

– From staff reports

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center