Winter flu season is here. Do you know how to nourish that sick kid back to good health?
It’s the time of the year when there are a few viruses getting about and I’m often asked what to feed kids whilst they are already sick and don’t have much of an appetite. This article is not designed to replace the advice of your medical practitioner, so if your kids are seriously unwell or lose their appetite for more than a few days, please seek medical opinion.
A time for nourishment
I believe that during acute illness (such as a cold or gastro virus) nourishing your child has never been more important. In my experience, it really can help them to recover quickly and prevent secondary infection. My 14 year old actually experienced her very first vomiting bug just last week. It was a 24-hour bug and she was back eating her way through the pantry a day on. Both my kids have never been unwell for more than a day or two and I like to think the care they’ve received in those early stages of illness, has really been part of their rapid recovery.
Rest and hydration
I think it’s really important first and foremost that at the first signs of illness, they rest. In my household this is non-negotiable. I also think it’s important that if they don’t have an appetite in the very early stages of illness, that we honour that, instead focussing on maintaining hydration which is the most critical thing during illness.
So other than room temperature water, these are the drinks I offer my kids if they are unwell…
1. Chicken bone broth
It has earned the nickname “Jewish penicillin” for good reason. Not only does it contain immune supporting properties, it’s also a great source of protein and contains a range of bioavailable minerals (that are easy for the body to absorb and assimilate). I always add a good pinch of sea salt to make it more palatable and help to maintain sodium levels. It’s great during and after stomach bugs and colds.
2. Herbal teas
My kids prefer herbal teas to plain water when they are unwell. Ginger and peppermint teas are great for both digestive and respiratory illness, but any non-caffeinated herbal tea that you kids feel like will support hydration. I make them in a thermos flask so they stay warm and they can sip small amounts frequently (this also avoids spills).
3. Coconut water
Coconut water has an impressive electrolyte composition that makes it perfect for supporting hydration. If you can get the real thing (whole young coconut) it’s a bonus, if not make sure you stick with an unsweetened brand. You can also add it to herbal tea and bone broth.
4. Miso soup
Miso is a great alternative to bone broth (if you are vegetarian) and is also a great source of protein, probiotics to support gut and immune health and a rich source of many micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Make sure you purchase a naturally fermented paste without additives.
When I was little I was always offered flat or watered down lemonade when I was sick. I think a more medicinal (gut-supporting) alternative is diluted kombucha (ginger and turmeric flavour would be perfect). I generally add a splash of water or coconut water to reduce any fizziness.
Foods to offer
If your child has gastro, chances are they will be without an appetite for at least 12 hours after their last vomit. Once you feel they are over the worst of it and on the mend, there’s no harm in gently encouraging them to try some food. Let them guide you as to what their body is feeling like. These are some of my family’s favourites…
Something very simple like bone broth mixed with an easy to digest noodle (rice or buckwheat noodles are my preference) or rice. A vegetable soup if palatable is also a fabulous, nourishing meal after illness.
2. Jelly or gummies
Jelly, only of the homemade kind, is a great way to introduce a little protein and carbohydrate. It’s so quick and easy to make and I let my kids dictate the flavour they feel like. You can always use coconut water or cooled herbal tea for the liquid part of the jelly too and don’t be afraid to experiment and make your own flavours. See this months recipe for a Raspberry Jelly recipe (www.wellnourished.com.au has lots of recipe inspo also).
Bananas are a great source of potassium so they are great if kids have had gastro. A little remedy passed down from my mum is banana mashed with a little natural yoghurt (kefir or coconut yoghurt) and a teaspoon of slippery elm powder (my son calls it nannies banana yoghurt). It’s really soothing to an upset tummy.
Something is NOT always better than nothing
A little word of warning. One of the things I’ve seen in my years of clinical practice are children who have developed food fussiness after being sick, partially because they have been allowed to eat all manner of processed foods on the premise that ‘something’ is better than nothing. Many authorities recommend flavoured yoghurt, juice, cakes, biscuits, ice-cream, jelly (packet kind) and packet or canned soup (sigh) during illness and this just breaks my heart. Sugar suppresses immune function and has no place in the diet when sick.