High calorie/high protein diet

Good nutrition is very important for children being treated for cancer. Children with cancer often have poor appetites. Also, side effects from medications may make the body not tolerate foods well. This can contribute to poor nutrition and poor growth. If a child with cancer maintains adequate nutrition, then the child may be more likely to:

  • Better tolerate chemotherapy or radiation and experience fewer side effects.
  • Heal.
  • Grow and develop.
  • Maximize quality of life.

Children with cancer often have increased calorie and protein needs. Protein is needed for growth and to help the body repair itself. Getting enough calories can help the body grow, heal or prevent weight loss. If your child is having trouble eating enough calories and protein, your child's physician or dietician may suggest serving high-calorie and high-protein foods (i.e., eggs, milk, peanut butter and cheese).

Increasing calories and protein

Listed below are some ideas for adding calories and protein to foods that your child may eat for meals and snacks:

  • Powdered milk (33 cal/Tbsp, 3 gm protein/tbsp):
    • Add 2 to 4 Tbsp to 1 cup milk.
    • Mix into puddings, potatoes, soups, ground meats, vegetables, cooked cereal, milkshakes, yogurt, and pancake batter.
  • Eggs (80 cal/egg, 7 gm protein/egg) or egg substitute (Egg Beaters® 25 cal/¼ cup, 5 gm protein/¼ cup):
    • Add to casseroles, meat loaf, mashed potatoes, cooked cereal, macaroni and cheese and chicken or tuna salads.
    • Add extra to french toast and pancake batter.

      Do not use raw eggs in uncooked items. Egg substitutes may be used in uncooked items, such as milkshakes or eggnog.
  • Butter or margarine (45 cal/tsp):
    • Add to pudding, casseroles, sandwiches, vegetables, cooked cereal, breads and pasta.
  • Cheeses (100 cal/oz., 7 gm protein/oz.):
    • Give as snacks, or in sandwiches.
    • Add to casseroles, potatoes, vegetables and soups.
  • Wheat germ (25 cal/Tbsp): Add 1 to 2 Tbsp to cereal.
    • Mix into meat dishes, cookie batter and casseroles.
  • Mayonnaise or salad dressing (45 cal/tsp):
    • Use liberally on sandwiches, salads, as a dip for raw vegetables or sauce on cooked vegetables.
  • Evaporated milk (25 cal/Tbsp, 1 gm protein/Tbsp):
    • Use in place of whole milk in desserts, baked goods, meat dishes and cooked cereal.
  • Sour cream (26 cal/Tbsp):
    • Add to potatoes, casseroles and dips.
    • Use in sauces and baked goods.
  • Sweetened condensed milk (60 cal/Tbsp, 1gm protein/Tbsp):
    • Add to pies, puddings and milkshakes.
    • Mix 1 to 2 Tbsp with peanut butter and spread on toast.
  • Peanut butter (95 cal/Tbsp, 4 gm protein/Tbsp):
    • Serve on toast, bagels, crackers, bananas, apples, and celery.
  • Carnation® Instant Breakfast™ (130 cal/pkt, 7 gm protein/pkt):
    • Add to milkshakes or milk.
  • Gravies (40 cal/Tbsp):
    • Use liberally on mashed potatoes, rice, noodles and meats.

What foods are high in protein?

High-protein foods include:

  • Meats - beef, chicken, fish, turkey, lamb.
  • Milk and cheese - yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese.
  • Eggs.
  • Peanut butter (with bread or crackers).
  • Dried beans and peas (with bread, cornbread, rice).

Children younger than 3 years of age should avoid chunky peanut butter, and fruits and vegetables with skin, due to the risk of choking.

Commercial nutrition supplements should only be used when recommended by your child's physician or dietician. Below are some examples of supplements. Your child's physician or dietician will suggest which ones are best for your child. Different flavors are available, including vanilla, chocolate, strawberry. Examples of supplements include the following:

  • Pediasure®, Nutren Jr®, Kindercal.
  • Ensure®, Resource®, Boost®.
  • Ensure® Pudding, Boost® Pudding.

High-calorie snacks

The following snack ideas are a good source of calories for children older than 3 years of age. They can be eaten as a meal or in addition to meals.

  • Instant breakfast drink (280 cal):
    • 1 packet Carnation Instant Breakfast, 8 oz. whole milk.
  • Instant breakfast shake (500 cal):
    • 1 packet Carnation Instant Breakfast, ½ c. half & half, ¾ c. ice cream mixed in blender.
  • Cheese toast (175 cal/slice):
    • 1 oz. cheese, 1 slice toast.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and milk (555 cal):
    • 2 sl. Bread, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 Tbsp jelly, 8 oz. whole milk.
  • Bagel and cream cheese, jelly and juice (510 cal):
    • Bagel, 1 oz. cream cheese, 1 Tbsp jelly & 12 oz. apple juice.
  • Pizza (300 cal):
    • 2 slices cheese pizza.
  • Egg and cheese on an english muffin (285 cal):
    • 1 egg, 1 oz. cheese and 1 english muffin.
  • Yogurt smoothie (390 cal):
    • 8 oz. Yogurt, ½ c. half & half, 1 c. frozen strawberries.
  • Peanut butter and banana on toast (320 cal):
    • 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 banana, 1 slice of toast.
  • Granola bar and yogurt (480 cal):
    • 8 oz. fruit-flavored yogurt and 2 granola bars.
  • Nachos with beans and cheese (560 cal):
    • 1 oz. tortilla chips, ½ c. refried beans, 2-½ oz. melted cheese and salsa to taste.
  • Tuna salad on crackers (440 cal):
    • ½ cup tuna salad, 5 crackers.
  • Trail mix (582 cal):
    • 1 cup Captain Crunch, 12 almonds, 2 Tbsp peanuts, 1/3 c. raisins, ½ c. chocolate chips or M&M's®.
  • Chili cheese fries (619 cal):
    • 1 c. french fries, 3½-oz. chili, 2½ oz. melted cheese.
  • Chips and dip and chocolate milk (507 cal):
    • 1 oz. chips, ¼ c. onion dip plus 8 oz. chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast.
  • Buttered popcorn and grape slush (600 cal):
    • 2 cups popcorn with 2 Tbsp melted butter and 1 high-calorie slush (2 grape popsicles, ½ c. grape juice, 2 Tbsp corn syrup, and 1 Tbsp corn oil, mixed in blender.)
Recipes for high-calorie shakes and drinks: Calories
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Shake 1070
½ c. heavy whipping cream
3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter
3 Tbsp chocolate syrup
1½ c. chocolate ice cream
Blend in blender.
Strawberry Crush 640
2 c. frozen strawberries
½ c. crushed pineapple
½ c. water
½ medium banana
6 Tbsp Sugar
¼ c. lemon juice
2 Tbsp Honey
Blend in blender.
Peaches and Cream  630
1 c. milk
1 c. canned peaches
1 c. vanilla ice cream
¼ tsp Salt
¼ tsp vanilla
Blend in blender.
Apple Pie a la Mode  525
1 c. apple pie filling
½ c. milk
1 c. vanilla ice cream
dash of cinnamon
Blend in blender.
High-Calorie Breakfast Shake  505
1 c. half & half
1 packet Instant Breakfast
¾ c. ice cream
Blend in blender.
Grape Slush 493  
2 grape juice bars
2 Tbsp corn syrup
½ c. grape juice or 7-Up
1 Tbsp corn oil
Blend in blender.
Orange Sherbet Shake  480
¾ c. orange sherbet
2 Tbsp corn syrup
½ c. 7-Up
2 Tbsp corn oil
Blend in blender.
Old-fashioned Milkshake 420  
1 c. whole milk
1 c. ice cream
Blend in blender.
Hot Chocolate 416  
3 oz. Milk chocolate
¼ tsp vanilla
1 tsp butter
1 c. half & half
Melt chocolate and butter. Add vanilla and slowly stir in half & half, small amounts at a time. Reheat to desired temperature.
Carnation Instant Breakfast  280
1 packet
1 c. whole milk

Other high-calorie drinks come ready-made and are available in most grocery stores and pharmacies, including the following:

Ready-made high-calorie drinks: Calories
Ensure Plus®, 8 oz 360
Resource Plus® 355
Boost Plus® 355
Carnation Instant Breakfast    280
Kindercal®    240
Pediasure®    240
Fast Food Shake   340-400  
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