Helping kids eat when they’re sick

Seeing your child sick is hard enough, but not being able to get them to eat while they get better can be just as stressful. Every well-meaning parent wants to see their child eat a balanced meal – it’s how they stay healthy, right?

Actually, unless your child’s provider says otherwise, you probably don’t need to worry about this so much. For the most part, there are only a few things you need to keep in mind as your toddler fights their way back to good health.

Liquids, liquids, liquids

As your toddler recovers from being ill, you want to make sure you’re giving them enough liquids to prevent dehydration. Being sick makes your body lose fluids, and dehydration can prolong illness. It is ideal that they drink mostly water, milk and Pedialyte if they are vomiting. Just focus on giving your toddler small sips of liquid every few minutes. Another great way to get fluids into your child is by giving them chicken noodle soup; this provides the water, salt, and sugar that helps your child rehydrate faster. Homemade soup is ideal so you can control what’s in it, and if you buy it from the store, makes sure it’s not too salty or oily.

The BRAT diet

Despite its questionable name, the BRAT diet has been recommended for parents to serve their children when they have been having a hard time stomaching food for quite some time. The BRAT diet consists of four bland foods: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. If your child doesn’t seem to want foods that have a strong taste, try feeding them any or all of these four ‘safe’ foods. On the other hand, some research suggests that this diet is too limited, and that children do better eating their regular diet when they’re hungry as they recover.

If your child does better cutting back to a diet of more mild foods during illness, some modified version of the BRAT diet can be helpful, but if they seem to respond better to small amounts of the food they eat regularly, there’s no need to modify their diet.

Avoid giving your child foods that are spicy or caffeinated. If your child has diarrhea, it’s best to avoid giving them foods that are high in sugar or fat (like juice or fast foods), since these can make diarrhea worse.

Go by how they feel

Don’t make your toddler try to scarf down food if they are truly not hungry; it’s normal if they doesn&;t feel like eating right now. If they do want some food, go slow and feed them small portions of foods. After they have had something to eat, wait a little while before offering them food again.

Things to remember as your toddler starts feeling better: be patient, have them drink liquids often, and regularly check to see what your toddler can handle in terms of food. Contact the doctor or other healthcare provider if your toddler refuses liquids, exhibits warning signs of other illnesses, or if you just have any other questions about how to best care for them during this time.

  • Toby Amidor. “What to Feed a Child with a Stomach Bug.” USNews. US News & World Report, Oct 17 2014. Web.
  • “Feeling Sick.” CYH. Women’s and Children’s Health Network, Mon Feb 2016. Web.
  • Tamara Hargens-Bradley. “When kids get stomach bugs, preventing dehydration is priority No. 1.” OHSU. Oregon Health & Science University, Wed Jan 9 2013. Web.
  • Beth Wallace Smith, RD. “What to feed your child after a stomach virus.” Philly. Philadelphia Media Network LLC., Jan 28 2013. Web.
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