Childhood Cancer

Childhood Leukemia

What Kids Should Eat

A healthy diet includes enough calories to ensure a normal rate of growth, fuel the body’s efforts to repair and replace healthy cells, and provide the energy the body needs to break down the various chemotherapy drugs and excrete their byproducts. While chemotherapy is being given, maintaining weight is a higher priority than a balanced diet.

When the body becomes malnourished, body fat and muscle decrease. This leads to weakness, lack of energy, weight loss, a decreased ability to digest food, and less ability to fight infection. These health issues sometimes require a reduction in the dose of chemotherapy drugs.

The U.S. government recently changed dietary guidelines (see Figure 22–1). To keep your child’s body well-nourished, foods from all six basic food groups are needed: (1) protein, (2) dairy, (3) grains, (4) fruits, (5) vegetables, and (6) fats and sweets. Children on chemotherapy benefit from eating a lot of fats, which add needed calories.

Figure 22–1: My Plate Dietary Guidelines

Examples of foods contained in each group are listed below, with a small child’s serving size in parentheses beside each food. Consult a nutritionist to figure out the number of servings that is best for your child.


Meat (1 ounce)

Fish (1 ounce)

Poultry (1 ounce)

Cheese (1 ounce)

Eggs (1)

Peanut butter (2 tbsp.)

Dried beans, cooked (½ cup)

Dried peas, cooked (½ cup)

Some typical 1-ounce servings of proteins are: a 1-inch meatball, a 1-inch cube of meat, or one slice of bologna.

Dairy products

Milk (½ cup)

Cheese (1 ounce)

Ice cream (½ cup)

Tofu (½ cup)

Custard (½ cup)

Yogurt (½ cup)

Dairy products provide calcium, vitamin D, and protein, which are necessary for bone growth and strength.


Bread (½ slice)

Oatmeal (½ cup)

Cream of wheat (½ cup)

Graham crackers (1 square)

Cereal (½ cup)

Granola (½ cup)

Cooked pasta (½ cup)

Brown rice (½ cup)

Try to use only products made with whole grains and limited sugar to get more nutrients per serving. One sandwich made with two slices of whole wheat bread provides four servings of this food group.


Fresh fruit (1 medium piece)

Canned fruit (1/4 cup)

Dried fruits (¼ cup)

100% fruit juice (½ cup)

Fruits can be camouflaged by puréeing them with ice cream or sherbet in the blender to make a tasty milkshake or smoothie, or by adding them to cookie and muffin recipes.


Raw vegetables (1/4 cup)

Cooked vegetables (1/4 cup)

If your child does not want vegetables, they can be grated or puréed and added to soups or spaghetti sauce. If you own a juicer, add a vegetable to fruits being juiced. There are also many brownie, cake, bread, and muffin recipes that use vegetables that cannot be tasted, such as zucchini bread, brownies with spinach or avocado, carrot cake, and veggie muffins.

Fats and sweets

Butter or oil


Peanut butter

Meat fat (in gravy)

Ice cream


Whipped cream




Although the guidelines call for fats to be used sparingly, higher consumption of fats is needed for children being treated for cancer. Experiment to find the fats your child enjoys eating and serve them often.