Health Library
Appetite and Taste Changes with Cancer

How Does Appetite and Taste Change with Cancer?

While your child is treated for cancer, they may say that certain foods do not taste the same. This temporary side effect of chemotherapy and radiation is called "mouth blindness."

Some children complain that meats taste bitter or metallic and sweet foods are too sweet. Many prefer spicy, tangy foods such as pizza, chili and spaghetti.

You may need to try different foods to learn what foods your child prefers.

Suggestions for Preparing Food

Because of changes in appetite and taste, your child may eat different foods while being treated for cancer. Use the list below to help guide you when preparing your child's foods.

  • Prepare foods that look and smell good to your child.
  • Tart foods such as oranges and lemonade may have more taste.
  • Add spicy flavorings and seasonings to foods to enhance flavor. For example, before cooking, marinate meats in teriyaki or soy sauce, Italian dressing, sweetened fruit juice or wine.
  • Salty foods, such as pizza, hot dogs, sausage, chili, spaghetti sauce and ketchup, may taste good.
  • If beef is not well accepted by your child, try chicken, fish, cheese, eggs or turkey.
  • Barbecued or charcoal-grilled foods may be more flavorful and moister than baked foods.
  • Your child may prefer foods cold or at room temperature.

Weight Gain with Steroids

Sometimes children temporarily gain weight during treatment because of steroids. The extra weight will be from fluid and stored fat as a result of increased appetite and extra calories.

The following suggestions have been helpful for parents of children taking steroids. They may be helpful in limiting weight gain. However, you cannot prevent some weight gain. Remember that each person is different and you will have to find what works best in your situation. Your child's dietitian or doctor may have more tips.

  • Try to divert attention away from hunger by keeping your child occupied with other activities such as reading, coloring, doing puzzles.
  • Encourage physical activity, based on recommendations given by your child's doctor.
  • When hunger strikes between meals, have your child drink water or calorie-free beverages. Wait 20-30 minutes and see if the hunger disappears.
  • Choose low calorie fruits and vegetables more frequently. Have foods cut up and ready for snacking.
  • Limit high-calorie foods and desserts to one normal serving per day.
  • Limit salty foods to one normal serving per day. Salt causes the body to retain or hold on to water.

Last Updated 08/2022

Reviewed By Gab Klein, RN

Who treats this.

Our young adult cancer specialists are nationally recognized for their expertise.

Contact us.