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Food For Sick Children

The challenge of sick children

The first 6 to 12 months of major contact with other children (siblings, childcare, kindergarten or school) means repeated illness and sick days for your child (and often the entire family)! Add to that the change in seasons and the many nasty bugs that float around during winter and it can often feel like your family is sick continuously!

This is an awful time for all involved. Looking on the bright side, it does get better as exposure to bacteria and viruses is an essential part of building up immunity and protecting your child from future illnesses.  

The immune system recognises and protects your child against virus and bacteria they’ve had before and protects them from getting sick. Having a robust immune system helps children to recover from illness more quickly. Unfortunately however getting sick is an unfortunate reality of being a child… even the best immune system can’t stop all the germs or prevent illness.


Ways to Boost Your Child's Immunity

Here are some ways you can help to boost your child’s immune system:

  • Breastfeeding

  • A healthy well balanced diet with sufficient protein and carbohydrates

  • Try to sneak in the vegies and fruit where you can to ensure a good dose of essential vitamins

  • Exercise, activity and fresh air 

  • Psychological well being – happy and relaxed (minimal stress, relatively speaking...we all do live in the real world I know)

Food Tips for Sick Kids 

Below we offer some tips to help manage your sick child’s diet at home once the problem is diagnosed and treated:

  • Offer simple food and healthy favourites. Comfort food such as custard, mashed potato, chicken soup, dry toast, plain biscuits, fresh fruit, and jelly can be good depending on the illness. 

  • Understand that sick children may not wish to eat - they may have lost their taste or have a sore throat. Don’t put pressure on them, offer alternatives and ask them what they feel like eating.

  • Offer little and often to try to keep calories and energy up.

  • Keep a food diary of the amount of food/fluid and food preferences while your child is sick. This is a good way to track what and how much your child is eating and drinking. This can then be reviewed to determine whether your child’s diet is inadequate (in this case supplementation may be necessary). This also helps you to track the quantity of food your child has consumed over a few days – and if your child is not getting enough to eat you may need to seek medical opinion.

  • Try to minimise cross contamination by washing all crockery, utensils, drink bottles etc. in boiling soapy water (or dishwasher). Wash your hands and your childs’ hands before and after eating.

  • Dehydration poses a major risk so keeping your child hydrated (or re hydration) is the emphasis when your child is unwell.  Keeping well hydrated is crucial for easing the symptoms of colds and flu as it prevents the throat and nose lining from drying out. Warm fluids are especially helpful as they can help moisten your throat and loosen mucus. Honey drinks have been shown to ease coughing.


Some signs of dehydration:
  • Dry mouth, lips and tongue; reduction in urine (fewer wet nappies); urine is darker in colour, runny poos (over 24 hours); skin may feel dry and papery or cold/clammy (if in doubt always seek medical advice).

  • For infants offer breast milk and formula as often as you can throughout the day and night

  • For older children offer water, diluted formula, milk, or diluted fruit juice (depending on the illness) – ensure your child has access to plenty of fluid (a good drink bottle is essential) and encourage them to drink throughout the day and night as required. Ice blocks, frozen drinks or even just sucking on ice can be a great way to encourage your child to keep those fluids up.

  • You can get electrolyte replacement products from the chemist if required but always seek medical opinion prior to ensure these are appropriate and necessary for your child.

Nutrition and the role it plays

While there is no direct evidence that catching a cold or the flu is related to our diet, nutrition is essential for maintaining the body’s immune function. There are a variety of nutrients in food that can boost the immune system. You can find these immune-boosting nutrients in...

Vitamin A

Found in: eggs, milk, and orange/yellow fruits and vegies

Vitamin B6

Found in: meat, whole grains, vegetables

Vitamin C

Found in: citrus fruit, kiwifruit, berries, capsicum and broccoli

Vitamin E

Found in: nuts, grains, vegetable oils and wheat germ


Found in: brazil nuts, seafood, meat and poultry


Found in: lean meats and shell-fish, dairy products (choose low-fat), whole grains, beans and nuts


Found in: fermented dairy products such as yoghurt

There are some commonly talked about remedies for colds and flu. Echinacea is a herbal remedy often recommended. However, there is controversy over whether or not it is effective and more research is required. Garlic has been shown to help reduce the duration of colds and prevent their onset. Try to include garlic in cooking on a regular basis. And I’m sure you’ve all heard the old saying “Feed a cold, starve a fever”? This one happens to be supported by scientific evidence. However, it is likely to be more relevant for fevers caused by bacterial infections as opposed to fevers caused by viral infections (the flu).

Overall, always see a medical professional if your child is unwell.  All rules go out the window as illness typically disrupts your childs food and sleep routines.  Go with the flow; be there for your child, don't worry if your child is not interested in food - keep the fluids up and feed them what they feel like eating.  You can always get back into eating a healthy balanced diet once they are well again. 

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