Appetite Problems

Both cancer and its treatment can cause appetite problems. Fear, worry, and stress also can decrease the desire to eat. On the other hand, some children may be hungry, but may feel full, reducing their food intake. Regardless of the cause, appetite problems can result in poor weight gain or weight loss if they persist.

  • Offer favorite foods during the child’s “not hungry” periods.
  • Provide a variety of foods.
  • Encourage the child to eat small meals and snacks more often.
  • Offer high-calorie foods and snacks.
  • Make mealtime a pleasant and enjoyable experience.
  • Provide liquids between meals.
  • Eliminate non-nutritious fluids; encourage milk, shakes, and juices.
  • Limit greasy or high-fat foods that may cause the child to feel full too quickly.
  • Try varying the time, place, and surroundings of meals.
  • Let the child eat whenever he or she is hungry.
  • Praise good eating, and avoid arguing, nagging or punishing when the child is unable to eat.
  • Ask your doctor about medications that can help to improve appetite.

Your child’s taste for some foods may change

A child’s medical condition, medication, or therapy may change his or her sense of taste. These changes, when they occur, are different for each person. For example, some children experience a bitter or metallic taste in the mouth, particularly after eating red meat. Some find that food has no taste, and request very spicy and/or salty foods, while others may want only bland foods because everything tastes too sweet to them. Try to determine which foods taste best to the child, and provide these more often. Remember, tastes may change often throughout therapy.

  • If red meat tastes bitter, try chicken, turkey, eggs, fish, dairy products or peanut butter as a protein source.
  • Avoid fish that have a strong odor. Try cooking on an outdoor grill to avoid odors in the house.
  • Marinate meat in Italian dressing or sweet and sour sauce to enhance the flavors in food.
  • Tart foods such as orange juice, lemonade, cranberry juice, and pickles are usually well accepted.
  • Children also seem to like salty-spicy flavor of foods such as nacho chips, cheese curls, pretzels and barbecue potato chips.
  • Include strong flavored seasoning such as garlic and/or lemon juice in your cooking.
  • Many foods taste better if they are cold or at room temperature.
  • Encourage your child to drink fluids or suck on hard candy or mints to remove unpleasant tastes in the mouth.
  • Prepare and cook foods in glass and plastic containers rather than those made of metal.
  • Encourage good oral hygiene habits. Your child should brush his or her teeth after each meal with a soft toothbrush.
  • Frequent mouth rinsing is a good idea. Avoid commercial mouthwashes containing alcohol. Ask the child’s nurse or doctor to recommend a good mouthwash solution.