Nutrition for Children in Cancer Treatment

Amy Thomas Health Guide
  • While most cancer patients will have trouble getting adequate nourishment, children with cancer are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. In addition to maintenance calorie requirements, kids need additional calories for growth and development. They also typically have less calorie reserve in their body to help them through times of illness. Combined with variable phases of picky eating seen in most children with or without illness, these factors pose a considerable challenge to parents trying to help their child get adequate nourishment during cancer treatment. My next few posts will address special nutritional issues for children with cancer, starting now with protein requirements.

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    Protein molecules maintain a number of vital body functions. Proteins are responsible for the contraction and movement of muscles, they facilitate various biochemical reactions in our major organ systems (including the ones that make our hearts beat), and they serve as antibodies in our immune system defending the body from infectious organisms. Protein is required to maintain normal growth and development in children, and it is also needed to repair and replace tissue damaged by cancer and cancer treatment.


    The calorie requirements for children being treated with cancer are generally about 20% higher than standard recommendations, but the increase in protein requirement is often higher. While most kids need to get about 10 to 20 percent of their daily calories from protein, kids with cancer may need twice as much protein to aid tissue healing, maintain energy, and foster proper development.


    While lean meat is an excellent source of animal protein, not all children are great meat eaters, and parents often worry their kids aren't getting enough. Fortunately protein is found in a number of other kid-friendly sources like chicken, cheese, eggs, and milk, which are often staples of a child's diet and can be easily mixed into their favorite dishes and drinks. Kids can also get their protein from grains, vegetables, and legumes. A one-ounce serving of cheese or two tablespoons of peanut butter can provide about the same amount of protein as an ounce of meat.


    Combining protein sources-eggs with cheese, macaroni and cheese, pizza with meat, hamburger with cheese-is also helpful. If you have trouble getting your child to drink milk, add a teaspoon of chocolate mix to help the flavor. They may also liked flavored nutritional energy drinks like boost.


    Parents should follow the nutritional recommendations made by their child's oncologist and dietitian, but if more protein intake is recommended-the following list includes common protein rich foods that kids typically enjoy.

    • Milk, soy milk
    • Eggs
    • Cheese
    • Yogurt
    • Peanut Butter
    • Lean Meats, Fish, Tuna Fish, and Poultry
    • Grains including bread and pasta
    • Alternative sources:
    • Beans, Tofu, Lentils, Peas, Peanuts, Hummus
    • Nuts and Seeds-almonds, walnuts, cashews, sesame seeds (may be helpful to mix with raisins and candy-a mix of peanuts, raisins, and sesame seeds is a favorite of mine)

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Published On: January 05, 2009