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Dietary Tips for Kids With Cystic Fibrosis

Nutrition and Cystic Fibrosis

Kids with cystic fibrosis (CF) have unique nutritional needs. They're an important part of keeping kids healthy.

If your child has CF, you'll work with the registered dietitian on the health care team to help your child grow strong and healthy.

How Can I Make Mealtimes Positive?

Nutrition is important with CF, because good nutrition is linked to healthier lungs. But the focus on nutrition can sometimes cause stress and arguments at the dinner table.

To make mealtime easier:

  • Keep mealtimes to less than 30 minutes.
  • Eat in a comfortable environment without distractions (TV, tablets, phones).
  • Praise your child for positive behaviors, like taking bites of a non-preferred food or finishing a portion.
  • Praise siblings too. This models positive eating behaviors for your child with CF. 
  • Ignore negative behaviors like complaining, stalling, or outbursts.
  • Consider a simple reward system, like a sticker chart, to reinforce positive mealtime behaviors. Your child can use the chart to earn a reward or privilege for following mealtime rules (for example, skipping a chore, getting extra screen time, or doing a fun activity with mom or dad).

How Should I Introduce New Foods?

Often, kids need to taste and try new foods over and over again before they like them. It may take your child a few tries to accept a new food — that's normal!

Here are some tips for introducing new foods:

  1. Choose one food you want your child to try.
  2. Offer the new food at one meal, and put just one bite of it on your child's plate.
  3. Explain to your child what you expect them to do: You want them to eat their regular meal, plus this one bite.
  4. Praise your child for eating, especially for trying the new food.
  5. At the next few meals, as your child begins to get used to it, slowly increase the amount of the new food.

Repeat this process with each new food you serve.

How Can I Help My Child Get More Calories?

Some kids with cystic fibrosis need more calories than their peers. These simple tips can help your child eat more calories:

  • Avoid sugary drinks, which can decrease appetite. Instead, have your child drink three servings of whole milk per day and stay hydrated between meals and snacks with water.
  • Provide structure around eating. Create a meal/snack schedule at home that the whole family follows. Kids who eat all day long tend to take in fewer calories rather than more because they never build up a strong appetite.
  • Make sure snacks are just as healthy and high-calorie as meals. Offer high-calorie snacks like trail mix, full-fat yogurt with granola, fruit with peanut butter, or whole-grain pita chips with hummus. Avoid low-calorie, low-nutrition snacks like fruit snacks, pretzels, or snack cakes.
  • If your child isn't hungry for breakfast, consider a high-calorie beverage instead, such as chocolate whole milk, Carnation Breakfast Essentials, or a high-calorie smoothie. Sometimes drinking calories is easier than eating them.

Sometimes the amount of food a child eats isn't enough to meet calorie goals. The easiest way to add extra calories is by adding extra fat to the food your child already eats. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Add extra butter or oil to pasta, rice, potatoes, or cooked vegetables.
  • Pair raw vegetables with salad dressing or hummus.
  • Top salads and sandwiches with avocados or guacamole.
  • Grill sandwiches in butter or margarine.
  • Add a splash of heavy cream to milk, oatmeal, smoothies, or cream-based soups.

What Else Can Parents Do?

Tell childcare providers and teachers about your child's cystic fibrosis and nutrition needs. Work with the school if your child needs things such as double portions at lunch or to keep a water bottle on hand. If you need help with this, talk to your CF care team.

Date reviewed: January 2020