Sick day meals for fussy toddlers

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is seeing your little one unwell, and while parenthood is full of surprises, one thing you can be sure of is that Baby will occasionally get sick. When toddlers have a cold or even a fever – or really any sort of sickness – they might lose their appetite and not want to eat much. This can come as a bit of a shock if Baby is typically a great eater but is suddenly refusing meals.

It’s actually fine for a toddler not to eat much for a few days when they&;s sick, just as long as they stay hydrated. However, if your little one refuses several meals in a row, it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider just to let them know what’s going on and see if they think you can continue with at home care or if it’s time for a sick child visit.

Hydration is the most important thing during an illness, but if you can figure out something your toddler would like to eat as they recover, it can help them start to feel stronger again as they recover.

Focus on liquids

Again, for toddlers whose appetites disappear when they’re sick, making sure they’re staying hydrated is much more important than trying to coax them to eat. Try to offer them small drinks often. A sip of water here, a sip of milk there, and you’ll know that they are getting the fluids they need.

If they doesn&;t seem too enthusiastic to drink up, though, it may be time to get a little more creative. While it’s not good for little ones to have juice regularly because of the high sugar content, during an illness, you can offer diluted fruit juice as a treat – just make sure to follow that up with some toothbrushing if your little one is open to it!

You can also offer up soups, smoothies, applesauce, ripe fruit, and popsicles or other yummy frozen liquids. Plus, warm soups and cold pops give you the opportunity to serve soothing foods that can be just the right prescription to help calm a scratchy throat – both warm and cold foods can help with this – warm up the chills, or cool down a fever.

Make it fun

Sometimes all it takes is offering Baby something they would refuse in its normal form – like fruit juice in a sippy cup – in a form that’s slightly more fun – like, say, frozen fruit juice in the form of an awesome popsicle! – to get them to eat. Instead of just tomato soup, offer it with some swimming cheesy animal crackers. Or try transforming a boring sandwich into exciting shapes with a cookie cutter. A pancake with a silly face made of fruit, perhaps? You could even add a drop or two of food coloring to something normal to make it magic.

Presenting out-of-the-ordinary food doesn’t work for all kiddos – some dislike it when their normal food looks different – but sometimes offering up food that’s a little bit fun can get Baby excited enough to show more interest in eating.

Make it special

Similarly, you could try to offer them a special food that they wouldn’t normally get to eat for lunch on just any average Tuesday. This might mean a midday bowl of ice cream or a favorite snack food that’s normally only offered as a treat. You might even ask Baby if they feel like a special occasion food that isn’t too much trouble for you to whip up – maybe something that’s normally a holiday dish or a favorite food that’s a tad out of season.

If you’re up for it, this might mean bending your own rules – on a regular day, it’s always preferable to serve Baby nutritious food, but if on an irregular sick day they just won’t go for that, it’s okay to see if they are open to food that you might not normally give them.

Anything goes

Bending the usual food rules doesn’t just mean you need to immediately default to sweets and treats.

Maybe it just means that if Baby is in the mood for eggs, you eat a breakfast scramble for dinner. Or they get to pick at the pasta bake they already ate for dinner yesterday for, well, breakfast and lunch and dinner today. Or maybe they can nibble on a steady stream of their favorite snacks all day, even if what they're eating doesn’t quite resemble a balanced diet or a ‘normal’ meal – say, nothing but tortilla chips, blueberries, and string cheese.

And if you’ve tried all of this and your little one still doesn’t want to eat? If none of these tips seem to make a dent in Baby’s hunger strike, don’t stress. As long as Baby is getting plenty of fluids, a few days that are a little short on solids aren’t a big deal.  

Read more:
  • Ran D. Goldman and Canadian Paediatric Society, Drug Therapy and Hazardous Substances Committee. “Treating cough and cold: Guidance for caregivers of children and youth.” Paediatrics & Child Health. 16(9): 564–566. November 2011. Retrieved August 8 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Fever: Self-management.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, July 21 2017. Retrieved August 8 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Sick baby? When to seek medical attention.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, September 20, 2016. Retrieved August 8 2017.
  • Diane E. Pappas. “The common cold in children: Management and prevention.” UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer. June 27 2017. Retrieved August 8 2017.
  • “Feeling Sick.” Women’s and Children’s Health Network: Child and Youth Health. Government of South Australia, July 13, 2017. Retrieved August 8 2017.
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