Helping your child to eat
Treatments for brain tumours, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can cause side-effects which make it harder for your child to eat an adequate amount of food and maintain a healthy weight.
Appetite changes that your child may experience
The most common diet-related side-effect of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is a loss of appetite. However, your child may also experience:
- Taste changes – especially saltiness or metallic sensation following chemotherapy
- Sore throat and/or dry mouth
- Increased appetite – especially if your child is taking steroid medicines
These changes should fade gradually after treatment finishes. If they continue, or you are particularly concerned about your child's appetite or weight, please speak to a member of their health team.
How can I help my child to eat?
Different children will find different things helpful, but there are some suggestions you could try:
If your child has a lowered appetite:
- Avoid putting your child under too much pressure to eat. Try giving them smaller snacks often rather than three large meals
- Try giving your child food they enjoy, rather than only giving them food you think of as healthy. Eating something not as nutritious is better than nothing
- Don't worry if they don't eat lots of fruit and vegetables - these tend to be low in energy but can fill your child up quickly
- Try to involve your child in the food-picking and preparing process in order to make mealtimes more enjoyable. Plan some treats
- Meal supplement drinks can make-up for lost meals (ask your doctor to recommend some)
- Keep a diary of when and what your child is eating. You might find that they are eating more than you think, or it can give you a better idea of when your child has a greater appetite and what foods they prefer to eat.
If your child is experiencing taste changes:
- Pineapple, mint and boiled sweets can leave a sweet and pleasant taste in the mouth when other foods are found to taste bitter
- Chewing gum can help with the initial after-taste of chemotherapy tablets
- Cook with sauces and herbs if your child doesn't enjoy foods they usually would - they may prefer stronger flavours
- Some parents find that positive attention (e.g. praise and hugs) after their child has eaten something is helpful in encouraging them to eat more.
If your child is experiencing nausea:
- Dairy products and foods that are greasy can make nausea worse
- Some children having treatment prefer eating cold rather than hot food
- Foods containing ginger, such as ginger biscuits, can help to settle the stomach
- Give your child snacks little and often rather than three big meals
If your child has a sore throat or dry mouth:
- Try giving your child soft and moist foods which are easier to swallow (e.g. pasta with a sauce)
- Try and avoid serving food when it's very hot
- Avoid very salty, acidic or spicy foods, as they can cause further irritation
- Sucking on ice cubes or ice lollies can help relieve the discomfort
- Supplementary drinks can help
If your child is experiencing increased appetite and is in risk of becoming overweight:
- Try to get them to fill up on fruit and vegetables
- Encourage them to eat filling foods, such as pasta and wholegrain bread
- Try giving them smaller portions at mealtimes and some snacks throughout the day
Who can help my child with their diet?
A dietitian would be the most suitable professional to help your child with their weight and their eating. Unlike nutritionists and nutritional therapists, dietitians are professionals who specialise in helping people with serious medical conditions such as brain tumours. If a dietitian isn't already part of your child's healthcare team, you could ask your child's doctor to refer you to one who works in a hospital or privately.