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Tips for Caregivers

Family Matters - Winter 2008

Nutrition for Your Child

Kristen Bardon, RD, LD, CNSD, is a senior clinical dietitian at M. D. Anderson and works with Children’s Cancer Hospital families to ensure patients maintain proper nutrition during therapy. She sat down with Family Matters Newsletter to answer some common questions parents may have about nutrition for their children.

Why is proper nutrition important for children with cancer and for childhood cancer survivors?

Nutrition is important for children undergoing cancer therapy to help them tolerate their treatment better.  They need adequate calories and protein to repair damage to normal cells caused by chemotherapy and radiation. Also, adequate food calories, protein, vitamin C and zinc are important for wound healing after surgery.

For childhood cancer survivors a healthy diet is important to prevent other disease such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Also, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with antioxidants and phytochemicals may help prevent other types of cancers.

What are some common nutrition tips for children with cancer?

Encourage your child to eat small frequent meals. Provide a variety of foods and include nutrient rich foods at each meal.

Are there any changes that parents should make in regards to their child's nutrition after treatment is over?
Sometimes during treatment we are just trying to get the child enough calories and protein, and some of the foods they eat might not be the healthiest choices. After treatment, it is important to get your child to return to a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, low fat meats and dairy products, and whole grains. Try to limit the amount of sweets and high fat foods they consume.

When should a parent consult with a dietitian regarding their child?

You should consult with a dietitian when you have any concerns regarding your child's nutrition.  Some things that should trigger a consult would be weight loss or excessive weight gain, or extensive treatment side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, mucositis and esophagitis. Also, if your child has difficulty eating or swallowing, a loss of appetite, or if your child is receiving nutrition from TPN or feeding tubes, then you should consult with a dietitian.

What is the role of a dietitian at M. D. Anderson?

Our role as dietitians is to work with the medical team to ensure that our patients are meeting their nutritional needs. We provide nutritional assessments and education to patients. We are a consult service and see inpatients and outpatients.

What's the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?

A dietitian has completed a degree in nutrition and has also completed an internship. A dietitian is nationally registered and also licensed by the state in which they practice. A nutritionist has not necessarily had any formal education or training in nutrition. Basically, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist.

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