Senior students in Lipscomb University’s Didactic Program in Dietetics contribute blogs to PearlPoint’s Pearls of Wisdom. View all student blogs here.
Imagine a child around 5 years old, who loves to talk, is friendly, loves to dance and is a picky eater. You might say to yourself, pickiness is typical at that age. What if I told you that child had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)?
I was that child. I distinctly remember that after my chemotherapy treatments my mom would take me to my favorite bakery for a cinnamon roll because that is all I wanted to eat. I remember feeling so nauseous during my treatment that my parents would be happy with whatever I did manage to eat, even if it was a cinnamon roll. Having a child that is a picky eater is challenging, but having a child with cancer that is a picky eater is a different challenge.
Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood. ALL affects the immune system. The number of healthy blood cells (red cells, white cells and platelets) is usually lower than normal. For children with ALL, this could lead to infections, anemia, and easy bleeding.
Good nutrition during treatment is critical and can help manage the side effects of chemotherapy. Most children with ALL experience nausea or vomiting while undergoing treatment. Due to side effects, eating can be a challenge for children with cancer. This can potentially lead to malnourishment, which could cause breaks in treatment or other complications.
Here are some recommendations to help manage or reduce side effects of nausea and vomiting:
- Encourage the child to drink shakes or smoothies that are high in calories and high in protein. Give this tasty smoothie recipe a try. Blend the following ingredients:
- 1/3 cup yogurt (if dairy is tolerated well, if not try a non-dairy substitution)
- 1 banana
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 5-6 ice cubes.
This shake is delicious and it tastes just like a cinnamon roll (but without all the added sugar and saturated fat)! Remember that protein is important for rebuilding tissue, helps the body grow, builds blood cells, and improves the immune system.
- Offer the child bland foods after treatments (pasta, crackers, toast, rice). Some children might develop an aversion to foods that have a strong smell or taste and that aversion is heightened after cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
- Encourage the child to sip small amounts of liquid throughout the day. If plain water doesn’t entice them, infuse the water by adding fruits such as strawberries or cucumbers. It is extremely important for the child to stay hydrated especially during treatment sessions and vomiting may cause dehydration.
- Steer clear of giving the child fatty and spicy foods. Eating fatty or spicy foods could potentially upset the child’s stomach and cause other issues such as diarrhea, which could lead to dehydration.
Nutrition is an essential part of health for children, especially for those who have been diagnosed with ALL. Children with cancer need protein, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals just like any other child. A registered dietitian that is specialized in pediatric oncology will be able to assist you in establishing a nutrition plan for your child.
Sakarrai (Kara) Sanders, Dietetics Student, Lipscomb University