Food as Medicine

The seasons are about to change, school has resumed, and it’s only a matter of time before kids start getting sick. You can do your best to try to shave off those dreaded illnesses by ensuring proper nutrition and rest every day. But there’s just no avoiding it sometimes. Try not to get too stressed if your child has decreased intake when he or she is ill. It’s normal, and likely they will rebound after and make up for it by eating more of what they need for re-nourishment. Drinking adequate fluids is very important, however, as dehydration can have serious consequences. Also, adequate hydration helps the body “flush out” the bacteria, viruses, and immune factors causing symptoms.

sick child eating

For the following illnesses, here are some nutrition considerations:

Sore Throat. Eating and drinking can obviously be painful. Focus on cold, liquid foods.

  • Applesauce. Stir in quinoa for extra protein. Just cook the quinoa, let it cool, refrigerate, and stir into applesauce when your child is interested in eating.
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothies, made with yogurt, frozen fruit, and baby spinach leaves.
  • Gazpacho
  • Frozen bananas
  • Frozen fruit puree popsicles
  • Pediasure, especially if your child is on the low end of the growth chart, has other chronic medical issues, or otherwise has poor nutrition.

Diarrhea and/or Vomiting.

Gastrointestinal illnesses can occur for a variety of reasons. Likely eating or drinking will induce nausea. Hydration and electrolyte balance/replenishment are important with prolonged diarrhea and vomiting. Call the pediatrician if the vomiting or diarrhea persists longer than 24 hours. Seek medical care immediately if you see blood in the stool or emesis, and also if your child seems dehydrated. Some signs of dehydration are decreased urine output, darker colored urine, urine with a strong odor, dark circles under the eyes, lack of tears when crying, “tenting” of the skin (when you pull it up it doesn’t retract quickly), dry mouth, and lethargy. The best you can do is to encourage drinking fluids and eating small amounts as able. Focus on easily digested foods that are low in fat.

  • The BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast). These foods are easily digested, and the bananas and applesauce contain soluble fiber, which absorbs fluids in the gut and promotes a bulkier, more formed stool. This counteracts loose, watery diarrhea.
  • Congee is used to treat diarrhea, and versions of it are used in African, Indian, and Asian cultures. It’s basically rice that has been cooked for a long time with extra water so that it boils into a soupy mixture that is easily digestible .
  • Offer electrolyte replacement beverages, such as those discussed in my exercise hydration post. A great, natural option is called Recharge and can be found at Whole Foods and other natural grocery stores.
  • Some studies have shown improvement in duration of gastrointestinal symptoms with taking probiotics. See my probiotics blog for more recommendations.

Common cold or flu. Warming, soothing foods are usually best accepted.

  • Soups or stews. Take advantage of the opportunity to get some quality nutrition in these meals. Butternut squash soup is a good source of vitamin A, tomato soup is a good source of vitamin C, potato soup is a good source of potassium, and beef or chicken stew provides good protein.
  • Bone broth. This traditional soup is made by actually boiling bones for a prolonged time, which creates a broth full of the nutrients stored in bones. You can use bones from a whole chicken after cooking it and using the meat for another meal. Put them in a crock pot on low over night or simmer on the stove for 8-12 hours. Use the broth to make soups, noodles, congee, or drink it warmed.
  • Offer good vitamin C sources such as fresh citrus fruits.

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