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Childhood cancer and nutrition: Common questions from parents

7 min - Read

How do I know my child is eating enough?

Your child’s weight and height will be measured at clinic appointments. This is sometimes recorded on a height and weight centile chart.

Measuring your child’s height and weight helps check whether they are eating enough and the effect of treatment on their growth. You will also be asked about their appetite, favourite foods and any problems they might be having with their eating and drinking.

Are there foods my child should avoid?

When your child is ill or having treatment, they can be more at risk of getting infections such as food poisoning. It is best to avoid the following items:

  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs
  • Pâté
  • Cheese made from unpasteurised milk, mould-ripened cheeses such as brie and camembert and blue cheeses such as stilton and gorgonzola. Avoid unpasteurised milk.
  • Raw and undercooked meat
  • Raw shellfish (well-cooked shellfish are safe to eat)

If your child is having a stem cell or bone marrow transplant, they may be advised to avoid other foods as well. Check with the dietitian, doctor or nurse.

My child eats the same thing every day. Should I be worried?

This is very common and is usually because the child has taste changes or other treatment side effects. Many children stick to ‘safe foods’ that they know taste ok or don’t make them feel sick. This tends to go in phases and usually improves over time. If you are concerned, ask the dietitian to check if your child is getting all the nutrients that they need.

I can’t get my child to eat fruit or vegetables

Try to serve some fruit or vegetables with each meal or snack to help keep up the routine of eating fruit and vegetables. For example, add a spoonful of peas and some grated carrot to a pasta sauce, place a few slices of cucumber next to a sandwich or make ‘fruit kebabs’ for pudding. Fruit juices, homemade milkshakes and smoothies are also a useful way of including fruit in the diet.

I’m worried about giving my child lots of junk food

All food has some nutritional value, even fast foods or ‘junk food’. Burgers, fries and pizzas are all high in energy and contain some protein, vitamins and minerals. Many children like how these foods taste, as they are usually highly flavoured and salty. As your child’s  appetite improves, and they feel better, encourage them to eat a wider variety of food.

Try involving your child in food preparation at home and add extra flavouring to make food more tempting. If you are worried, ask the dietitian to check their diet.

Should my child eat an organic diet?

Some studies have shown that organic fruit and vegetables may have increased levels of some vitamins and minerals and less contaminants. However, there is no evidence that organic foods are better for cancer patients. All fruits and vegetables, whether they are organic or not, should be washed thoroughly before eating.

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