Helping Your Child to Eat During Treatment

This information will help you encourage your child to eat during cancer treatment.

For the rest of this resource, our use of the words “you” and “your” refers to you or your child.

If your child is having an eating problem that is not discussed in this resource, talk with your healthcare team.

How Cancer Treatment Can Affect Your Child’s Eating

The side effects of cancer treatment can change your child’s food choices and appetite. Some treatments can cause:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throat and mouth
  • Dental problems
  • Changed sense of taste
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain

The effects of treatment are different for each person. Some people may not have any major eating problems during treatment. People who do have problems usually recover after treatment ends. Ask your doctor how your child’s treatment may affect his or her eating. Your pediatric dietitian can help you plan your child’s diet both at home and while you are in the hospital. For more information, please see the “Resources for Patients and Caregivers” section.

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How to Manage Symptoms

Loss of appetite

  • Make mealtimes fun.

    • Invite a friend to join your child for meals or snacks.

    • Play music during meals.

    • Try changing the time, place, and surroundings of meals.

    • A picnic, even if it is in the house, can make mealtime more fun.

    • Watch a favorite TV show at mealtimes.

  • Do not force your child to eat or threaten, nag, or punish them if they cannot eat enough food.

  • Let your child eat whenever he or she is hungry.

  • Your child does not need to eat just 3 meals a day. Several smaller meals throughout the day may work best. For example, offer a small snack or meal every 2 to 3 hours. Even taking a few bites or handfuls of high-calorie and high-protein foods every 30 or 60 minutes is helpful. Try offering meals at different times to see what works best for your child.

  • Limit your child’s intake of liquids at mealtimes. Liquids are filling and may make them too full to eat solid foods. Offer plenty of liquids at other times throughout the day.

Sore mouth or throat

  • Try soft foods and beverages that are easy to chew and swallow, such as:

    • Yogurt (drinkable and regular)

    • Ice cream

    • Milk and milkshakes

    • Peach, pear, and apricot nectars (most nectars have more calories than regular juices)

    • Bananas, applesauce, and other soft fruits

    • Watermelon or cantaloupe

    • Cottage cheese, mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese

    • Custards

    • Puddings

    • Gelatin, such as Jell-O®

    • Scrambled eggs

    • Oatmeal

    • Cream of wheat or other cooked cereals

    • Puréed or mashed vegetables such as peas and carrots

    • Puréed meats

  • Use a straw for drinking liquids.

  • Try serving foods cold or at room temperature. Hot and warm foods can irritate the mouth and throat. Ask your child which temperature he or she prefers. You my also want to set up a taste test for your child of foods and drinks at different temperatures; this can help you decide how to prepare meals.

  • If your child’s teeth and gums are sore, your dentist can suggest special teeth-cleaning products.

  • Ask your doctor about anesthetic lozenges and sprays, which can help your child’s mouth and throat become less sensitive.

  • Have your child rinse his or her mouth often with water. This helps to remove food and bacteria and promote healing.

Taste changes

  • Offer foods that look and smell good.
  • Red meat, such as beef, may taste unpleasant. If so, replace it with chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy products, or fish without a strong odor.
  • Increase the flavor of meat or fish by seasoning it with sweet juices, fruits, or acidic dressings. For example:
    • Sweet and sour pork with pineapple
    • Chicken with honey glaze
    • London broil in Italian dressing
  • If your child does not have a sore mouth or throat, season foods with tart flavors, such as:
    • Lemon wedges
    • Lemonade
    • Citrus fruits
    • Vinegar
    • Pickled foods
  • Try lemon drops, mints, or chewing gum. These can help reduce bad tastes that stay in the mouth after eating.
  • Use plastic forks and spoons. Metal utensils may cause a metallic taste on the tongue.
  • Flavor foods with:
    • Onion
    • Garlic
    • Chili powder
    • Basil
    • Oregano
    • Rosemary
    • Tarragon
    • Barbecue sauce
    • Mustard
    • Catsup
    • Mint
  • Add a little sugar to foods. This can help make the food taste better and will decrease salty, bitter, or acidic tastes.
  • Blend fresh fruits into milkshakes, ice cream, or yogurt. If your child is neutropenic (has a low white blood cell count), only use fresh fruits that have very thick skins and can be washed and peeled prior to use, such as bananas, oranges, or pineapple. You can also use canned or bottled fruits. Your pediatric dietitian can help you plan meals if your child is neutropenic. For more information about neutropenia and food safety guidelines, please ask your nurse for the resource Neutropenia (Low White Blood Cell Count), or go to:, and your dietitian for the resource Low Microbial Diet, or go to:
  • Have your child rinse his or her mouth before eating to help clear the taste buds. Rinse with tea, ginger ale, salted water, or water with baking soda.
  • Offer frozen fruits, such as cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, and watermelon.
  • Offer fresh vegetables. They may be more appealing than canned or frozen ones. However, if your child is neutropenic, ask your dietitian which fresh fruits and vegetables are safe to eat.
  • If liquids taste bad, offer drinks with a straw or use a covered drinking cup to reduce odors.

Dry mouth

  • Try very sweet or tart foods and beverages such as lemonade. These foods can help produce more saliva. Do not try this if your child also has a tender mouth or sore throat.
  • Offer sugar-free hard candy or popsicles. You can also try frozen yogurt pops or sugar-free chewing gum. These can help produce more saliva. Since some treatments can increase the risk of tooth decay, sugar-free versions may be better than those with sugar.
  • Offer soft and puréed foods.
  • Serve food with sauces, gravies, or salad dressings to make them moist and easier to swallow.
  • Keep your child’s lips moist with lip balms such as Aquaphor® or A&D® ointment.
  • Offer your child a sip of water every few minutes during meals to help make it easier to swallow and talk.
  • Ask your child’s doctor or dentist about products that can help coat and protect the mouth.


  • Try foods such as:
    • Plain toast and crackers
    • Plain or fruit-flavored yogurt
    • Sherbet
    • Pretzels
    • Angel food cake
    • Oatmeal
    • Skinless chicken (baked or broiled, not fried)
    • Fruits and vegetables that are soft or bland, such as canned peaches or pears
    • Sips of clear liquids (e.g., water, broth, milk-free ices, Jell-O®, fruit drinks)
    • Sugar-free hard candies, popsicles, or ice chips​
  • Avoid:
    • Fatty, greasy, or fried foods (e.g., French fries)
    • Very sweet foods (e.g., rich desserts)
    • Hot and spicy foods
    • Foods with strong odors
  • Offer your child small amounts of food often and slowly (e.g., 6 to 8 small snacks or meals versus 3 large meals).
  • Try to avoid serving meals in a room that is too warm or has cooking odors or smells that may cause your child to feel nauseous.
  • Serve foods at room temperature or cooler. Serve beverages cool or chilled. Try freezing favorite beverages in ice cube trays.
  • Do not force your child to eat their favorite foods while they are nauseous. It may cause them to dislike those foods later on.
  • Let your child rest after meals. Being overly active after eating may slow digestion and cause nausea.
  • If early-morning nausea is a problem, try offering dry toast or crackers while your child is still in bed.
  • If you child experiences nausea during treatment, avoid giving food for 1 or 2 hours before treatment.


Vomiting can follow nausea. It can be brought on by treatment, food odors, indigestion, or motion. In some children, certain settings, such as the hospital, may cause vomiting. If the vomiting is severe or lasts for more 24 hours, contact your doctor. Uncontrolled vomiting can lead to dehydration. In some cases, if you can control nausea, you can prevent vomiting.

If vomiting does occur:

  • Do not give your child anything to eat or drink until the vomiting is under control.
  • Once you have controlled the vomiting, offer small amounts of clear liquids. When your child is able to keep down clear liquids, try a full liquid diet (strained cereal, pudding, yogurt, milkshakes, and cream soups). Continue offering small amounts as often as your child can keep them down. If your child feels okay on a full liquid diet, gradually work up to a regular diet.
  • Ask your child’s doctor about medication to control nausea.

Diarrhea or loose bowel movements

Like uncontrolled vomiting, uncontrolled diarrhea can also lead to dehydration. If your child is having continuous diarrhea, more than 3 episodes of loose bowel movements in a 24-hour period, or both contact your doctor.

  • Try foods that are high in protein and calories but low in fiber, such as:
    • Yogurt without fruit
    • Rice with broth
    • Noodles
    • Farina or cream of wheat
    • Hard-boiled eggs
    • Ripe bananas
    • Canned or cooked fruit without skins
    • Cottage cheese or cream cheese
    • Chicken or turkey without skin, tender or ground beef, or baked or broiled fish (not fried)
  • Until the diarrhea is under control, avoid:
    • Greasy, fatty, or fried foods
    • Raw fruits and vegetables
    • High-fiber vegetables, such as broccoli, corn, beans, cabbage, and cauliflower
    • Strong spices such as hot pepper, curry, and Cajun spice mix
    • High-sugar foods such as fruit-flavored gelatin desserts
    • Beverages with caffeine, such as soda or cocoa
    • Carbonated beverages
  • Offer small amounts of foods and liquids throughout the day instead of 3 large meals.
  • Offer liquids at room temperature. Avoid serving very hot or cold foods.
  • Serve solid foods and liquids that contain sodium (salt) and potassium. These minerals are often lost when someone is having diarrhea. Bouillon or fat-free broths are high in sodium. Foods high in potassium include bananas, boiled or mashed potatoes, peaches, and apricots.


  • To control constipation, offer your child a hot drink about 30 minutes before they usually have a bowel movement. It may be best to do this in the morning and 1 hour after meals.
  • Offer high-fiber foods along with plenty of liquids. Increasing fiber without drinking enough liquids can make constipation worse. High-fiber foods include:
    • Whole-grain breads and cereals
    • Brown rice
    • Dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes
    • Raw fruits and vegetables, such as cauliflower, peas, apples, pears, oranges, and berries. If your child is neutropenic, avoid certain thin-skinned fruits. Your pediatric dietitian can tell you which fruits to avoid.
  • Give plenty of liquids.
  • Keep the skins on raw and cooked fruits and vegetables to increase the amount of fiber.
  • Add wheat bran to foods such as casseroles and homemade breads.
  • When possible, encourage your child to exercise. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist about the amount and type of exercise that is right for your child.

Weight loss

When your child is eating less than usual, make every bite count. Your healthcare team may recommend that you offer high-calorie and high-protein foods. Protein helps to keep your child’s body strong and helps it to rebuild itself. High-calorie foods help your child to keep a healthy weight.

Weight gain

If your child is on certain medications, such as prednisone or dexamethasone, the side effects may include an increase in appetite and weight gain.

  • Talk to your doctor about the weight gain. He or she can explain why it is happening.
  • Do not put your child on a weight-loss diet unless your doctor recommends it.
  • If your child has a big appetite, your dietitian can help you plan healthy meals and snacks.

Dental problems

Certain cancer treatments, including radiation to the head or neck and high-dose chemotherapy before a stem cell transplant, can cause tooth decay. Frequent snacking and sugary foods can also affect your child’s teeth.

  • Encourage your child to brush their teeth after snacks and meals.
  • Visit the dentist regularly.
  • Use soft toothbrushes, especially when your child’s gums or teeth are sensitive.
  • Make sure your child rinses his or her mouth out with warm water.
  • Limit your child’s intake of chewy candy.
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How to Increase Calories

Use the foods listed below to increase the amount of calories in your child’s foods. All of the calorie counts below are estimated. Different brands may have different calorie counts.

To prevent choking, infants and children under 4 years old should always be supervised during mealtimes. This is most important when offering nuts, popcorn, fruit chunks, grapes, spoonfuls of peanut butter, hard cheese cubes, cubed meat, hot dogs, and other small food items.

Butter and margarine (33 calories in 1 teaspoon)

  • Add to soups, mashed and baked potatoes, hot cereals, grits, rice, noodles, and cooked vegetables.
  • Stir into creamy soups, sauces, and gravies.
  • Combine with herbs and seasonings and spread on cooked meats, hamburgers, and fish and egg dishes.
  • Use melted butter or margarine as a dip for seafood, such as shrimp, scallops, crab, and lobster.

Whipped cream (sweetened; 77 calories in 1 teaspoon)

  • Use on hot chocolate, desserts, gelatin, puddings, fruits, pancakes, and waffles.

Whole milk (150 calories in 8 ounces); cream (25 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Fold unsweetened into mashed potatoes or vegetable purées.
  • Use in creamy soups, sauces, egg dishes, batters, puddings, and custards.
  • Put on hot or cold cereal.
  • Mix with noodles, pasta, rice, and mashed potatoes.
  • Pour on chicken and fish while baking.
  • Use as a binder in hamburgers, meatloaf, and croquettes.
  • Use whole milk instead of low-fat milk.
  • Use cream instead of milk in recipes.
  • Make hot chocolate with cream and add marshmallows.

Cheese (100 calories in 1 ounce)

  • Melt on top of casseroles, potatoes, and vegetables.
  • Add to omelets, sandwiches, and vegetables.
  • Add extra to pizza.
  • Try cheese sticks.

Cream cheese (50 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Spread on breads, muffins, fruit slices, and crackers.
  • Roll into balls and coat with chopped nuts, wheat germ, or granola.

Sour cream (26 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Add to creamy soups, baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, sauces, salad dressings, stews, baked meat, and fish.
  • Use as a topping for cakes, fruit, gelatin desserts, breads, and muffins.
  • Use as a dip for fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Scoop onto fresh fruit, add brown sugar, and chill.

Salad dressings and mayonnaise (100 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Use as a spread on sandwiches.
  • Combine with meat, fish, and egg or vegetable salads.
  • Use as a binder in croquettes.

Honey and jam (60 calories in 1 tablespoon); sugar (48 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Add to bread, cereal, milk drinks, and fruit and yogurt desserts.
  • Use as a glaze for meats, such as chicken.

Granola (180 calories in 4 ounces)

  • Use in cookie, muffin, and bread batters and parfaits.
  • Sprinkle on yogurt, ice cream, pudding, custard, and fruit.
  • Layer with fruits and bake.
  • Mix with dry fruits and nuts for a snack.
  • Substitute for bread or rice in pudding recipes.

Dried fruits (raisins, prunes, apricots, dates, figs; 100 calories in 1 to 2 ounces)

  • Try cooking dried fruits; serve them for breakfast in warm cereals or as a dessert or snack.
  • Add to muffins, cookies, breads, cakes, rice and grain dishes, cereals, puddings, and stuffing.
  • Bake in pies and turnovers.
  • Combine with cooked vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, and acorn and butternut squash.
  • Combine with nuts or granola for snacks.

Premium ice cream (150 to 270 calories in 4 ounces); yogurt (150 calories in 8 ounces); frozen yogurt (117 calories in 4 ounces)

  • Add to carbonated beverages, such as ginger ale, root beer, or cola.
  • Add to milk drinks, such as milkshakes.
  • Add to cereal, fruit, gelatin desserts, and pies. Blend or whip with soft or cooked fruits.
  • Sandwich ice cream or frozen yogurt between cake slices, cookies, or graham crackers.
  • Make breakfast drinks with fruit.

Eggs (80 calories in 1 egg)

  • Add chopped, hard-boiled eggs to salads and dressings, vegetables, casseroles, and creamed meats.
  • Add extra eggs or egg whites to quiches and pancake and French toast batter.
  • Add extra egg whites to scrambled eggs and omelets.
  • Make custard with eggs, milk, and sugar.
  • Add extra hard-boiled yolks to deviled-egg filling and sandwich spreads.
  • Do not use raw or undercooked eggs. They may carry harmful bacteria. Undercooked foods can make your child ill, especially when their immune system is weakened during treatment.

Nuts, seeds, and wheat germ (25 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Add to casseroles, breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, and waffles.

  • Sprinkle onto fruit, cereal, ice cream, yogurt, vegetables, salads, and toast as a crunchy topping.

  • Use in place of bread crumbs.

  • Blend with parsley or spinach, herbs, and cream for a noodle, pasta, or vegetable sauce.

  • Roll a banana in chopped nuts.

Peanut butter (95 calories in 1 tablespoon)

  • Spread on sandwiches, toast, muffins, crackers, waffles, pancakes, and fruit slices.
  • Use as a dip for raw vegetables, such as carrots and celery. (Do not use these raw vegetables if your child is neutropenic.)
  • Blend with milk drinks and beverages.
  • Swirl in soft ice cream and yogurt.

Meat (about 120 to 200 calories in 3 ounces); fish (about 100 to 175 calories in 3 ounces)

  • Add chopped, cooked meat or fish to vegetables, salads, casseroles, soups, and sauces.
  • For added protein and a tasty snack, wrap cooked meat or fish into homemade or store-bought biscuit dough or pie crust and bake.
  • Use in omelets, quiches, sandwich fillings, and chicken and turkey stuffing.
  • Add to stuffed baked potatoes.

Legumes (peas, beans, lentils; about 100 to 200 calories in 8 ounces)

  • Cook and use in soups.
  • Add to casseroles, pastas, and grain dishes that contain cheese or meat.
  • Mash cooked beans with cheese and milk.
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Nutritious Snack Ideas

  • Baked apples
  • Bread, muffins, and crackers
  • Popcorn
  • Cakes and cookies made with whole grains
  • Fresh fruit chunks (canned or dried fruit can also be used)
  • Fruits, nuts, wheat germ, or granola
  • Cereal
  • Cheese cubes
  • Cheese on breads and crackers
  • Chicken or fish spreads on crackers, breads, or fruits
  • Chocolate milk
  • Corn muffins
  • Crackers
  • Creamy soups
  • Dips made with cheese, beans, or sour cream
  • Gelatin salads and desserts
  • Granola on yogurt, ice cream, pudding, hot cereal, pancakes, or canned fruit
  • Guacamole on breads, crackers, or chips
  • Milkshakes or “instant breakfast” drinks
  • Nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Pizza
  • Puddings and custards
  • Mini sandwiches
  • Raw vegetables and dip
  • Whole or 2% milk
  • Yogurt with fruit
  • Yogurt and fruit shakes
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Smoothie Recipes

For the following recipes, put the ingredients into a blender and process until smooth.

Breakfast Smoothie

  • ½ cup of milk
  • ½ of an apple (peeled)
  • ½ cup of granola
  • ¼ cup of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • ½ of a medium banana
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  • 4 cubes of ice
  • Nutritional content: 560 calories, 27 grams of protein

Banana Smoothie (2 servings)

  • ½ cup of milk
  • 1 ½ medium bananas
  • ½ cup of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  • 4 cubes of ice
  • Nutritional content: 405 calories, 10 grams of protein

Caribbean Craze Smoothie (2 servings)

  • ½ cup of coconut milk
  • 6 cherries (pitted)
  • ¼ cup of pineapple (canned)
  • ¼ cup of orange juice
  • ½ cup of plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  • 4 cubes of ice
  • Nutritional content: 465 calories, 8 grams of protein

Strawberry Shortcake Smoothie (2 servings)

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 4 tablespoons of lady fingers or angel food cake
  • 6 strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon of sour cream
  • 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
  • Nutritional content: 460 calories, 13 grams of protein

S’mores Smoothie (2 servings)

  • ½ cup of coconut milk
  • 1 medium banana
  • 4 graham crackers
  • ½ cup of plain, whole-milk Greek Yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons of chocolate sauce
  • 3 drops of vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • 4 cups of ice
  • Nutritional content: 720 calories, 16 grams of protein
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Oral Nutritional Supplements

If your child is not getting enough calories and protein from his or her diet alone, your healthcare team may suggest oral nutritional supplements.

These supplements are available as liquids, powders, or oils. Some supplements can be added to foods, while others can be eaten alone to add extra calories and protein to your child’s diet.

Most supplements are lactose free, which means that your child can have them, even if he or she has trouble digesting milk products.

MSK is not endorsing any of the products listed below. All supplements are kosher, except Super Soluble Duocal®.

Brand Description Nutritional Content Comments
Carnation Instant Breakfast® (Nestlé)
  • Milk-based, flavored, sweetened powder that can be mixed with milk or water
  • Available in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors
  • Also available in premixed, ready-to-drink containers
  • Some versions are sugar-free
  • 240 calories and 10 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Available with and without lactose
  • Some versions come with extra fiber, more calories, and extra protein
Nutrament® (Nestlé)
  • Milk-based, flavored, sweetened liquid
  • Available in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, eggnog, coconut, and dulce de leche (milk caramel) flavors
  • 360 calories and 15 grams of protein in each 12-ounce serving
  • Only available at select retail stores in New York and Florida

PediaSure® (Abbott Nutrition)

  • Milk-based, flavored, sweetened liquid
  • Available in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, banana, and other flavors
  • 237 calories and 7 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Lactose-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Available with or without fiber
  • Refrigerate after opening

Polycose® (Abbott Nutrition)

  • Unflavored, powdered calorie booster
  • Can be mixed in foods and drinks
  • 23 calories in each tablespoon
  • Lactose-free
  • Gluten-free
  • Contains no fat or protein

Resource Breeze® (Nestlé)

  • Fruit drink available in peach, orange, and wild berry flavors
  • 250 calories and 9 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Lactose-free
  • Fat-free
  • Refrigerate after opening



  • Powdered, high-calorie shake
  • Available in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors
  • 600 calories and 12 grams of protein when mixed with whole milk
  • Available in lactose-free and sugarfree versions
Super Soluble Duocal® (Nutricia)
  • Unflavored, powdered calorie and fat booster for children ages
  • 1 year and older
  • Can be mixed in foods and drinks
  • 25 calories in each scoop
  • Use only as directed by your dietitian or doctor
  • After opening, use within 1 month

PediaSure® Peptide (Abbott Nutrition) Formally known as Vital Jr®

  • Milk-based, sweetened, liquid beverage available in vanilla or strawberry flavors
  • 237 calories and 7 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Made especially for children with diarrhea and other stomach problems, including nausea and digestion problems
  • Gluten-free


(Abbott Nutrition)

  • Milk-based shake available in vanilla, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, strawberry, coffee latte, and butter pecan flavors
  • 250 calories and 9 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Higher calorie version, Ensure Plus®, contains 350 calories and 13 grams of protein in each 8-ounce serving
  • Gluten-free
  • Appropriate for those who are lactoseintolerant

Ensure Clear(Abbott Nutrition)

  • Clear liquid beverage available in peach, blueberry pomegranate, and mixed fruit flavors
  • 180 calories and 9 grams of protein in each 10 fluidounce serving
  • Lactose-free, fat-free, gluten-free
  • Refrigerate after opening

Contact information for purchasing oral nutritional supplements

Abbott Nutrition


AxcanPharma Inc.


For a free sample of Scandishake®, or for more information, call

(800) 4-SCANDI (800-472-2634).


1-800-422- ASK2 (2752)



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Frequently Asked Questions

When our patients, parents, and families speak, we listen. We try to provide the most accurate information that is supported by scientific evidence. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about eating and cancer treatment.

My child is neutropenic and my doctor says he or she should follow a low-microbial diet. What can my child eat?

Your dietitian or nurse will give you guidelines on how to follow a low-microbial diet. There is an MSK resource called Low Microbial Diet that can help you with meal planning.

Can my child have sugar?

Yes. There is not enough scientific evidence to prove that avoiding sugar will prevent cancer growth or reoccurrence. People with cancer often have a hard time getting enough calories, so consuming sugar in moderation can help to provide additional calories.

Is there anything my child can eat to help their white blood cell counts increase?

There are no supplements or specific foods known to increase white blood cell counts. Iron supplements can be used to increase red blood cells, but not white blood cells. Speak with your child’s doctor for more guidance.

Is there anything my child can eat to help strengthen his or her immune system?

The best way to strengthen the immune system is to eat a healthy diet with a variety of foods.

What foods should my child avoid while getting chemotherapy?

There are specific dietary guidelines for some chemotherapy medications. Your doctor can give you this information. Otherwise, offer a variety of foods to keep your child as healthy as possible during treatment.

Why do my child’s potassium and magnesium levels sometimes drop during treatment?

Some chemotherapy medications, such as cisplatin, may cause a loss of magnesium and potassium in the urine. Normal levels of magnesium and potassium are needed to keep the heart and nervous system healthy.

Should my child avoid dairy?

There is no scientific evidence that shows a strong link between dairy products and pediatric cancers. Dairy is the best source of calcium, which your child needs to grow. We recommend that your child get calcium from non-fat or low-fat dairy products, as well as other sources, such as leafy-green vegetables, to meet their needs.

Are there any vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements my child can take?

You must talk to your healthcare team before giving your child any herbal or botanical home remedies or other dietary supplements during treatment. They can stop treatment from working as it should. Do not give your child any vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements during treatment, unless your doctor approves.

There is no scientific evidence that dietary supplements or herbal remedies can cure cancer or stop it from coming back.

For more information, ask your nurse for the resource Herbal Remedies and Cancer Treatment or go to:

You can also visit the MSK Integrative Medicine Service website for more information about herbs and botanicals:

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Resources for Patients and Caregivers

Ask your doctor or nurse for the MSK resource Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment or go to:


American Cancer Society (ACS)




American Institute for Cancer Research


National Cancer Institute (NCI)


National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)


NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)



American Cancer Society’s Healthy Eating Cookbook: a Celebration of Food, Friends, and Healthy Living (3rd ed.)

Publisher: American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Nutrition for Cancer Patients (2nd ed.)

Publisher: American Cancer Society

American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Nutrition for Cancer Survivors: Eating Well, Staying Well During and After Cancer (2nd ed.)

Publisher: American Cancer Society

The Cancer Survival Cookbook: 200 Quick & Easy Recipes With Helpful Eating Hints

Authors: Christina Marino and Donna Weihofen

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

*Easy-to-Swallow, Easy-to Chew Cookbook: Over 150 Tasty and Nutritious Recipes for People Who Have Difficulty Swallowing

Authors: Donna Weihofen, Joanne Robbins, and Paula Sullivan

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

*The I Can’t Chew Cookbook: Delicious Soft Food Recipes for People With Chewing, Swallowing, and Dry Mouth Disorders

Author: J. Randy Wilson

Publisher: Hunter House

* Available in electronic format.

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