#18: What to Feed a Sick Toddler

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Something I’ve noticed with my friends who don’t have kids, every time I tell them my kids are sick they’re like WHAT AGAIN? It’s pretty inevitable when they’re still developing their immune system and it’s really not until grade school when it starts to decrease. 

So I want to give you some tips on feeding them while they’re sick so you can feel prepared and feel good about what you’re doing to help them recover quicker. 

I personally get so anxious when my kids are sick I hate it, especially if they’re not sleeping well ugh but I’ve got the nutrition piece down and that’s one thing we have in our control when they’re not feeling well. Not what they actually eat, we can’t force that but what we offer. 

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 episode will help you through!

Note: this post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

What to feed a sick toddler

“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 nutrikidshake.com: MAMAKNOWSNUTRITION15)

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

  • Watered down 100% juice with ice cubes
  • Milk
  • Warm herbal tea (100% caffeine free) with a tsp of honey
  • Warm bone broth
  • Coconut water

And if they are in the mood for something light, all of these foods will help with their hydration, too.

  • A popsicle
  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothie
  • Fruit (especially watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, cantaloupe, and peaches)
    • Can be fresh, frozen, or canned or packaged in 100% juice

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 or 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. You can still offer other items but it’s normal if the only stuff they are drawn to is plain. 

Two of my favorites when my kids are sick are:

And of course, you still want to focus on hydration

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:

These options are a little more nutritious than the go-to’s, but they’re still easy and soothing.

Top 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 it 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 from MaryRuth’s Organics (use code kacie15 for 15% off!) or try this syrup from Amazon.

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!)

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

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.

Final reminder

Remember, you don’t need to add a Vitamin C supplement, 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.

If this episode was helpful please leave me a 5 star rating and review! If you’re like me and your love language is words of affirmation then you KNOW it lights up my day to see those positive comments roll in. Talk to you next week here on Feeding Toddlers Made Easy! 

Resources

Use affiliate code MAMAKNOWSNUTRITION15 for 15% off at nutrikidshake.com

Elderberry drops (use affiliate code kacie15 for 15% off at MaryRuth’s Organics)  

White Bread Done Right by Dave’s Killer Bread

Simple Mills Sea Salt Almond Flour Crackers

6 Healthy Smoothies for Kids

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