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Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and some cancer medications may lead to loss of appetite. It’s important for mothers to learn how to manage loss of appetite in children during cancer treatment.

Each person experiences different side effects from the medicine. There are some children who experience major side effects during treatment and there are those who don’t. These side effects usually reduce after treatment ends. Seek advice from your doctor on how your child’s treatment may affect their eating. A nutritionist can help you plan your child’s diet both at home and in the hospital

Simple tips that can help you manage your child’s loss of appetite:

  • Make mealtimes fun.
    • Request a friend to join your child for meals or snacks.
    • Play music during meals.
    • Try changing the time, place, and surroundings of meals.
    • A picnic, even if it is in the house, can make mealtime more fun.
    • Watch a favorite TV show at mealtimes.
  • Do not force your child to eat or threaten, harass, or punish them if they cannot eat enough food.
  • Let your child eat at whatever time he or she is hungry.
  • Your child does not need to eat just 3 meals a day. Several smaller meals throughout the day may work best. For example, offer a small snack or meal every 2 to 3 hours. Even taking a few bites or handfuls of high-calorie and high-protein foods every 30 or 60 minutes is helpful. Try offering meals at different times to see what works best for your child.
  • Limit your child’s intake of liquids at mealtimes. Liquids are filling and may make them too full to eat solid foods. Offer plenty of liquids at other times throughout the day.

 

Nausea

For some children nausea can lead to loss of appetite. In order for you to manage this,

  • Try foods such as:
    • Plain toast and crackers
    • Plain or fruit-flavored yogurt
    • Baby cereals
    • Skinless chicken (baked or broiled, not fried)
    • Fruits and vegetables that are soft or bland, such as pears, watermelon and pawpaw
    • Sips of clear liquids (e.g., water, broth, fruit drinks)
    • Sugar-free hard candies.
    • Citrus fruits like lemon

 

Avoid:

  • Fatty, greasy, or fried foods (e.g. French fries)
  • Very sweet foods (e.g. rich desserts)
  • Hot and spicy foods
  • Foods with strong odors
  • Offer your child small amounts of food often and slowly (e.g., 6 to 8 small snacks or meals versus 3 large meals).
  • Avoid serving meals in a room that is too warm or has cooking odors or smells that may cause your child to feel nauseous.
  • Serve foods at room temperature or cooler. Serve beverages cool or chilled. Try freezing favorite beverages in ice cube trays.
  • Do not force your child to eat their favorite foods while they are nauseous. It may cause them to dislike those foods later on.
  • Let your child rest after meals. Being overly active after eating may slow digestion and cause nausea.
  • If early-morning nausea is a problem, try offering dry toast or crackers while your child is still in bed.
  • If you child experiences nausea during treatment, avoid giving food for 1 or 2 hours before treatment.

Vomiting

Vomiting may occur as a result of the treatment, food odors, indigestion, or motion. In some children, certain settings, such as the hospital, may cause vomiting. If the vomiting is severe or lasts for more than 24 hours, contact your doctor. Uncontrolled vomiting can lead to dehydration. In some cases, if you can control nausea, you can prevent vomiting.

If vomiting does occur:

  • Do not give your child anything to eat or drink until the vomiting is under control.
  • Once you have controlled the vomiting offer small amounts of clear liquids. When your child is able to keep down clear liquids try a full liquid diet (strained cereal, milk, yogurt, milkshakes, and soups). Continue offering small amounts as often as your child can keep them down. If your child feels okay on a full liquid diet gradually work up to a regular diet.
  • Ask your child’s doctor about medication to control nausea.