Preparing food for someone with cancer can be frustrating. It isn’t easy dealing with food refusal. During this time it is important to look after yourself. If your child has cancer, our special tips may help.
Dealing with food refusal
There are many reasons why the person can’t eat what you have prepared. Some people just don’t feel like eating.
You may feel you have tried everything without success. Many people experience this and there is no easy solution.
To understand your feelings a little better, remember we often express our love or feelings for someone by the giving of food. If this food is not accepted, for whatever reason, it is natural to feel upset. Trying to make less of an issue of food can reduce stress for everyone. Following a strict eating plan is not necessary. Simply provide what the person feels they can comfortably manage.
Look after yourself
Caring for someone who is unwell can be exhausting and stressful, even more so if you are not used to cooking and doing household chores.
If you can, try to arrange some time off for rest. Accept offers of help from family, friends and neighbours.
There are services available to help, such as community transport, shopping services, home help, Meals on Wheels.
Many of these services can be used on a short- or long-term basis and arranged by a social worker, doctor or nurse.
If your child has cancer
Children need good nutrition for normal growth and to cope with the stress of treatment. Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet and to stay physically active if possible during treatment. This isn’t easy – your child may lose their appetite or feel full as a side effect of treatment.
A child may use food to express anger, despair or frustration at being sick or being different from others. The following tips, or some of the other tips given in this booklet, may be useful.
You should try to create a stable home environment for your child when they are having cancer treatment. Continue normal daily routines as much as possible. Consider sitting down at the table for a family meal at least once daily.
Regular mealtimes are important times for families to share, and it will help your child feel part of the family. Make mealtimes as relaxed as possible – your child can sit with the family even if he or she doesn’t eat or chooses to eat something different.
- Let your child have food any time, not just at meal times, so that nourishing snacks supplement small meals.
- Be flexible in meal patterns and food choices – allow your child to have breakfast cereal for dinner if that’s what he or she wants.
- Allow your child to occasionally have fatty or sugary foods like chips and chocolate. These foods may be useful high-energy snacks if they are all your child wants to eat. Any nourishment is better than none, but don’t let these foods become a habit.
- Use the time between treatments, while there are no side effects, to make up for any nourishment your child may have missed during treatment.
- Have takeaway food occasionally, to tempt fussy eaters.
- Don’t eat in front of the television as it can be distracting.
- Encourage your child to make mealtimes special by letting her or him plan the table setting, using decorated paper cups, coloured drinks, centrepieces or other features.
- Introduce novelties such as fancy drinking straws, patterned plates, coloured eggs or vegetables cut into interesting shapes. For a younger child who is kept home from school, try a picnic or brown paper lunch bag.
- Try to avoid food becoming a bargaining tool or a source of anxiety for either you or your child.
- Explain the reasons for good nutrition to older children. This may encourage them to eat when they feel up to it.