Nutrition: Healthy Eating During and After Treatment

Why is eating healthy so important for cancer patients and survivors? What you eat has a direct impact on your health. It is important to eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans. Eating the right foods can help a child feel better, stay stronger and have more energy. Many studies have also showed that following a healthy diet during cancer treatment can minimize some side effects, lower the risk of infection and hasten healing and recovery.

Cancer treatment often affects a child’s appetite which can be very challenging. Mouth sores, nausea, constipation or diarrhea often decreases a child’s appetite while steroids often increases it. Treatment can also cause changes in taste, which can lead to eating challenges. Healthy, nutritious eating may become a battle so remember the most important thing is that your child is well-nourished and getting plenty of liquids. Try different strategies, different foods and get creative if needed.

Kevin was 16 when he was diagnosed with leukemia last January. His mom Michelle said there were many times when it was hard just getting Kevin to eat anything. She recommends eating healthy meals and snacks with your child to show them you are going through it together. She also advised to always talk with your doctor about any concerns.

Following are some tips and tricks to use if eating becomes problematic with younger children:

  • Offer frequent small meals and snacks throughout the day
  • Provide a variety of colorful fruit and vegetables to “eat the rainbow”
  • Let your child eat their favorite foods any time of day (ex. breakfast for dinner)
  • Drink most fluids between meals instead of with meals to prevent getting too full
  • Try to stick to your normal family mealtime habits and make mealtime fun
  • Praise healthy eating choices
  • Set the table with fun dishes or straws
  • Play your child’s favorite music
  • Watch TV or socialize with friends while eating if it helps
  • Use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes in sandwiches, meats, cheeses, etc.
  • Let your children help you shop and prepare foods
  • Have picnics outside or even in the living room
  • Avoid arguing, nagging or punishing a child if unwilling to eat
  • Use the Choose My Plate Food Guidance System for food nutrition

Healthy snack options include:

  • Unsweetened cereal
  • Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Dips with cheese, beans, yogurt or peanut butter
  • Fruit
  • Granola/trail mix
  • Homemade milk shakes and smoothies
  • Muffins
  • Popcorn/pretzels
  • Yogurt

For more information about healthy eating, visit

This information is not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. If you have any questions or concerns, you should talk to your child’s doctor, nurse, or dietitian.

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