Foods to Give Sick Kids

Written By: Renae D'Andrea
Last Updated: March 12, 2021

What should you feed your child when they are sick? It wasn’t that long ago that the recommendations were to feed a BRAT diet, or banana, rice, applesauce and toast. That is no longer the case, so what should you focus on instead?

Hydration is Most Important for Sick Kids

When kids (and adults!) are sick, it isn’t uncommon to have a decreased appetite. And it’s easy as parents to fixate on our children’s lack of eating. But when they are sick, the hands down most important thing to focus on is hydration! Not food.

We want to make sure that our child is keeping up their fluid intake so that they don’t get dehydrated, which is even more important if vomiting or diarrhea is involved. 

Focus on things like water, diluted juice, soups or broth to help with their fluid intake. You can even serve fruits to help with fluid needs, as they contain a large percentage of water. Think things like watermelon and other juicy fruits, especially.

Sick child and mom

What Foods to Give Sick Toddlers and Preschoolers

When it comes to specific foods, there really aren’t any! It is no longer the recommendation to serve only very bland foods like the bananas, rice, applesauce and toast that I mentioned above. But if your child is suffering from a stomach ailment, then avoiding greasy, heavy food is still going to be a good idea.

Focusing on things that are more on the starchy side, like pasta and bread, can help to keep their stomachs from revolting. But there’s no medical need to limit it to bland food, especially if your child seems to be tolerating food well in general.

Regardless of your child’s illness, if they have lost some of their appetite then focusing on small, frequent meals can help. Think about it from your own point of view- if you don’t feel well and someone presents you with a huge meal, it can be really hard to eat it. Having smaller meals and snacks goes over better for adults and children, and helps to encourage more intake.

What Should Babies Eat When Sick

If you have a baby who is in those first 6 or so months of eating, getting sick could throw a wrench in their desire to eat. The most important thing for babies is to focus on breastmilk or formula. That is still their main source of nutrients through at least a year. If you find your baby not willing to take fluids, this is a red flag and you want to make sure you consult with your healthcare professional immediately.

Pumped breast milk

If your baby wants to nurse more frequently or drink more from the bottle while sick, though, go for it! It’s okay for them to focus primarily on their milk until they are better. Breastmilk and formula still have a large amount of calories and fluids for them, and is a great way to help them get better!

When it comes to specific foods to give or avoid for sick babies, there are no special recommendations and they will do well with the same recommendations as toddlers and older kids above.

How to Get Back to a Normal Routine

When kids are sick, routines and rules tend to go out the door. That’s certainly not something to feel guilty about, ever! But once your child has recovered, it is important to get right back into the normal swing of things.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from parents that things went off the rails after their kids were sick and they never got back to their previous feeding routine. I don’t say this to scare you or make you think that you shouldn’t relax the rules when they are sick. But rather, to help encourage you to have a return plan in mind so that things don’t carry on endlessly. (If you need help with getting back to a routine, or creating one in the first place, I'm here to help!)

Kids are smart, and if they see a window of opportunity to keep getting what they want even after they are better, they will take it! So once they are better, focus on getting back to your schedule, and making sure that you are following the Division of Responsibility!

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