Food and Fluids for Sick Kids
Updated: Aug 3
It seems as though as soon as the cold weather hits, runny noses and upset tummies quickly follow.
When your kiddo(es) are sick, they often refuse to eat and sometimes drink. Yet, it is so important to nourish their little bodies with energy and nutrients for a it a speedy recovery.
Here is a listing of sick day foods tweaked to provide maximum nutrition. Scroll right to the bottom to save the sick-day food infographic with images of foods and drinks to offer.
Food and Fluids for Sick Kids - Cold and Flu
The most common advice for combatting cold and flu is getting enough fluids and having small nutritious meals. Here are some ideas:
Formula or breast milk ice cubes - For young babies not yet on solids, you can offer these in a mesh or silicone feeder to suck on.
Popsicles – Homemade or store bought can be soothing on a sore throat and are also great for keeping hydrated. Look for ones made with 100% fruit or make your own using an electrolyte drink or pureed fruit and Greek yogurt. For a colour contrast, use a spinach -based fruit pouch as your bottom popsicle layer. For younger babies, use an ice cube tray to make cubes with items mentioned above or breast milk and pop them into a mesh feeder.
Smoothies – Kids love smoothies plus they are quick to prepare, can be highly nutritious and are a great way to increase fluid intake. Blend 1.5-2 cups of water, milk or nut milk with 2 cups of frozen fruit and blend. Add some avocado for a nutrient boost along other add ins like flax/chia seeds/hemp hearts. Here is a fun recipe called Ground Up Frog
Gelatine cubes – There is a reason why flavoured gelatine is still on the regular hospital menu. It contains sugar (energy), lot of fluid for hydration and is easy to chew. Throw a pinch of salt into the mix to help replenish electrolytes.
Soup – the ideal sick day food! Soups are a warm and comforting way to load up on protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats. A homemade soup is the ideal but not always the reality. When offering canned or dried soups, boost nutrition by adding some frozen veggies or beans/lentils. I often make congee for my girl when she is sick. For babies and toddlers, offer deconstructed soup with the broth on the side in a cup.
Food and Fluids for Sick Kids - Upset Stomach
You may have been told that a child recovering from vomiting or diarrhea should be fed the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, apple sauce and toast. This is no longer recommended for children as it does not provide enough fibre or nutrients and is unnecessarily restrictive.
So, what should you give them? Let’s see what the Canadian Pediatric Society has to say:
During the Bout of Illness
If your child is vomiting only give them clear liquid; ideally give them an oral rehydration solution (ORS). Note, some ORS’s might contain uncommon ingredients. Parents of kids with food allergies should always read the ingredient label.
Give 1 tbsp every 10-15 minutes until vomiting stops – increase gradually until they are able to drink the whole amount (see below for amounts).
If your child won’t drink ORS from a bottle or cup try a syringe, medicine dropper or ORS homemade(made with store bought ORS fluid) or store bought ice pops.
While your child has diarrhea, AVOID sugary drinks such as fruit juice, sweetened fruit drinks and pop. As well as sweetened tea, broth or rice water. These do not have the right combination of water, salt and sugar and can make diarrhea worse. Stick to oral rehydration solutions.
Check out the signs of dehydration and the amount of ORS to offer on the Canadian Pediatric Society Website.
Keep giving the ORS until diarrhea has become less frequent
As vomiting decreases try and get your child to drink formula/breast milk or whole milk if already introduced in the diet.
Offer small, frequent meals.
Offer bland foods with complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole grain bread or crackers, baked of broiled lean meats, fruits and vegetables.
Avoid fried or greasy foods such as French fries, potato chips, doughnuts or pastries as well as sweetened beverages such as juice or pop.
You may want to avoid gas causing foods such as broccoli, beans, dried fruits and corn.
Parents, I wish I could send you strength and strong coffee during these bouts of illness. It is tough on them and us.
Check out some of the other blog topics like how to safely offer sushi to little ones or a listing of healthy but quick foods for busy parents.
Disclaimer: All the advice shared here is general information. Consult your doctor for personalized health information. Compiled February, 2020
Special thanks to Sabrina Mastrangelo, 3rd year nutrition student at Ryerson University who did the research for this post.