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Food for Sick Toddlers: What to do when they won’t eat!

Have the winter colds and flus hit your house yet? This time of year I find that lots of toddlers are in one of two phases: sick, or recovering from being sick. And while it’s normal for sickness to throw a toddler’s appetite way off, as a parent, I know you still want to be sure your little one gets what they need! So whether you and your family are sick, recovering from being sick, or just preparing for what’s coming, this post should help you through!

Keep reading for the research, some recipes, and my top tips on the best food for sick toddlers (even when they don’t want to eat much of anything).

Food For Sick Toddlers Who Won’t Eat

“What the heck am I supposed to do if my kid won’t eat anything I offer them?!”

Hydration, hydration, hydration!

Whether your kids are sick from a cold, the flu, a tummy bug, or a sore throat, and whether they’re eating a little, a lot, or nothing at all, the main priority is ALWAYS hydration.

That’s because many of the more glamorous parts of getting sick actually draw fluid out of the body. (Think sweaty fevers, mucus, diarrhea, and vomiting. You know, all the fun things!

It’s a lot to ask of them to consume large amounts of water, especially if their tummies are upset, so small sips throughout the day are key. And when they really don’t want water, it’s okay to find something else they will drink. Even if it’s a milkshake to soothe their sore throat! A simple vanilla milkshake can be a great option, because they’ll love the ‘treat’ and you can sneak in a little nutrition boost (that they won’t notice) with a scoop of yogurt or vanilla Nutrikid Shake. Keep reading for my go-to vanilla milkshake recipe further down in this post!

(PS: You can use my affiliate code* for 15% off at MAMAKNOWSNUTRITION15)

Milkshake not doing it for them? Here are some other things to try:

  • Watered down 100% juice with ice cubes
  • A popsicle
  • Yogurt
  • A Smoothie
  • Fruit (especially watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries)
  • Milk
  • Warm herbal tea (100% caffeine free) with a tsp of honey (over 1 years old)
  • Warm broth

Will dairy make my toddler’s cold or flu worse?

Some people worry about serving milk during a cold or upper respiratory infection, because they worry that it will increase mucus production and make their littles feel sicker.

Dairy may thicken mucus, and it’s okay if you choose to avoid it. But research has shown that dairy actually does not increase mucus production. (Balfour-Lynn IM. Milk, mucus and myths. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2019;104:91)

Ultimately, your main take away from this should just be that if they want to drink milk during their cold, you shouldn’t worry about serving it.

What to do if they just want ONE thing

If all they want is toast and crackers, that’s okay! Give them a few days to eat this way until they feel better, and then get back to the normal menu.

Two of my favorites when my kids are sick are:

And of course, you still want to focus on hydration! Scroll back up for some tips and recipes that will help you get some fluids in them, to help replenish what they’ve lost.

Food For Toddlers Recovering from an Illness

When your child is recovering from an illness, you can expect for their appetite to still be off for several more days, and that’s fine!

Usually bland foods are more appealing to them during this time, but know that you don’t have to ONLY offer the standard bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (BRAT).

Some other options to get them eating again are:

  • Yogurt
  • Soup
  • A smoothie

These options are a little more nutritious than the go-to’s, but they’re still easy and soothing. (Our family’s go-to recovery smoothie recipe is included in the bonus section of this post!)

My Favorite Supplements for Preventing & Treating Illness

Your starting lineup for this sickness season is: hand washing, good hygiene, probiotics, and elderberry!

Why these 4 things? Well, hand washing and hygiene can be enough for us grown-ups, but the reality is that toddlers just do not understand how to cover a cough, blow into a tissue, or avoid putting their mouths on their friends.

Until they have fully grasped their personal hygiene and cold season practices, Elderberry and Probiotics are going to be your top cold fighters! They’ll keep those nasty little germs from spreading and becoming a cold that takes down your entire household.

Prevent Sickness With Probiotics: The Immune Boosters

Probiotics will help support your child’s immune system, which can ultimately keep them from getting sick. I use Culturelle Kids (amazon affiliate link*) because the strain and dosage has been researched and proven to help keep kids from getting sick. If you want to learn more about probiotics for kids, see this post.

Treat Sickness With Elderberry: The Symptom Reducer!

As soon as they actually start getting sick, reach for Elderberry. It won’t prevent them from getting sick like probiotics can, but research does support shortening the duration of their symptoms, so you don’t need to give it to them daily unless they start showing signs of a cold. Try this elderberry gummy or this syrup.

Of course you should always check with your pediatrician before adding supplements to your child’s diet, just in case there are any reasons your little one shouldn’t be taking them. (Especially if they are under 2 years old, just call to make sure it’s okay!)

keep your toddler from getting cols prevention and treatment probiotics and elderberry

Spilling the Tea on Vitamin C

The truth is that your child really does not need to take a Vitamin C supplement, because it’s really easy to get 100% of the Vitamin C they need from food.

Toddlers get enough Vitamin C from any ONE of the items on this list:

  • 2 strawberries
  • ½ small orange
  • 2 strips red bell pepper
  • 2 tbsp broccoli
  • 2 tbsp kiwi

Food For Sick Toddlers: Nutrition-packed recipes they should be able to tolerate!

Simple Vanilla Milkshake

I usually make my kids this twist on a milkshake – and if I have ice cream in the house, I’ll add a scoop in!

Just blend in a high speed blender, and serve.

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 scoop vanilla Nutrikid Shake (or yogurt)

Our Go-To Recovery Smoothie

  • 2 frozen bananas
  • 1 cup milk (any kind)
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 1/2 cup plain, whole milk Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • Splash of vanilla extract

Blend everything together, add additional milk if you need to thin it out. Makes two servings.

Hydration Tips for Sick Toddlers Who Aren’t Eating

  • Watered down 100% juice with ice cubes
  • A popsicle
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothie
  • Fruit (especially watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries)
  • Milk
  • Warm herbal tea (100% caffeine free) with a tsp of honey (over 1 years old)
  • Warm broth

You got this!

I know cold and flu season can be hard to handle, but I hope this post will give you a few takeaway tips that you can use to keep your family healthy this year.

Remember, you don’t need to add Vitamin C or remove dairy. Instead, focus on hydration, adding in nutritional boosts wherever possible, and consider giving your child Elderberry and Probiotics if your pediatrician approves it.

And don’t forget to try out a few of my go-to recipes for sick toddlers!

Want more food ideas for toddlers?

My Meal & Snack Survival snack guide has you covered! Grab your copy here.

*Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases


Anonymous · February 15, 2024 at 10:46 pm


Randa Karim · January 17, 2024 at 12:53 am

The author provides a refreshing perspective on nourishing sick toddlers, offering a wealth of practical and creative ideas to ensure little ones receive the nutrients they need while dealing with illness. The emphasis on incorporating flavors and textures that appeal to young taste buds is a brilliant approach, making the process of feeding sick children both nutritious and enjoyable. The inclusion of specific food suggestions, along with the insightful tips on presentation and preparation, adds a valuable touch to the overall content. This article not only serves as a helpful resource for parents but also stands out for its positive and caring tone, making it a go-to guide for anyone navigating the challenge of keeping toddlers healthy during illness. Great job!

carol · November 28, 2022 at 12:07 am

i have made popsicles and they really worked great for my kids and now I have many ideas

jenny · November 28, 2022 at 12:04 am

wonderful ideas i was so worried as my kid is sick and I don’t have any idea what I can do till now
but I found great food ideas thanks

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Kacie Barnes holding an apple
Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.


This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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