Nutrition for Children with Cancer

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When your child is taking steroids

Children with cancer often take steroids, such as prednisone or dexamethasone, as part of their treatment. Children taking steroids usually feel hungry all the time and may gain weight. Steroids also tend to make people retain fluid.

You can help your child make some diet changes to help prevent fluid retention and limit the weight gain. Your doctor, nurses, or dietitian can help you know what to do. They may suggest foods low in salt (sodium). Alternatives to salty foods include foods highly seasoned using other spices. High-sodium foods, such as most snack chips and pretzels, processed foods, or frozen meals should be avoided. (Those labeled “reduced sodium” are usually OK.) Also be aware of extra calories your child may not need at this time, like those in sodas and juices.

Your health care team can also give you tips on planning meals and snacks that are satisfying, but not high in calories, to keep your child at a healthy weight. Offer your child fresh, nutritious, filling foods, such as fruits and vegetables, homemade soups, non-processed meats, dairy products, breads, and pastas. Your child does not have to feel deprived of her favorite foods, but some changes in the recipe might be wise. Consider thin crust pizza with low sodium cheese for the pizza lover, and baked chicken tenderloin strips and baked potato fries for the chicken nugget and french fry lover. No food is especially bad, but how it is prepared or the portion size can be unhealthy.

The appetite changes and fluid retention caused by steroids will go away when treatment ends. Still, preventing excess weight gain during steroid treatment is important to prevent stretch marks around the belly (abdomen) and upper legs, and also prevent high blood pressure.

When steroid treatment ends many children will lose their appetites for a short time. The weight loss that may come with this is expected and will be closely watched. But some children, especially teens, may have a hard time losing the weight gained during treatment.


Last Medical Review: 06/30/2014
Last Revised: 06/30/2014