Feeding your child when she's sick can be a challenge. Besides not feeling well, she may not be hungry; if she has the flu or a bad cold, her less-active body requires fewer calories, says John Leventhal, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine. "Fever, however, increases the heart rate and breathing, and actually ups caloric requirements," he adds.
"For short illnesses, what's most important is keeping a child well-hydrated. Without enough fluids, vital organs can't function properly," says pediatrician Homer Nash, M.D., of St. Louis, Missouri. So while you shouldn't panic if your child refuses food for a day, if she rejects all liquids during a 24-hour period, call your pediatrician. (Infants shouldn't go more than 8 to 10 hours without liquids.) Call the doctor at once if you notice signs of dehydration: diminished urine flow; darkened urine; fewer tears when crying; lethargy; a parched, dry mouth; or in infants, a sunken soft spot on top of the head.
To prevent dehydration, babies under age 1 need at least one to two ounces of fluid per hour (restrict fluids to breast milk or formula, or a rehydration solution if your doctor approves). Kids 1 and up need three to four ounces of fluid per hour. But in either case, kids will need more fluids if they are vomiting or have diarrhea.
Get-Well Food and Drink Guide
Your child's symptoms and age will determine the kind of fluids and food she can tolerate. Here, a symptom-by-symptom chart to help you nurse your child back to good health.
SYMPTOM: Nausea or vomiting
Once your child can keep fluids down, give small servings of bland foods -- which settle easier in the stomach -- such as toast, applesauce, and soup with rice or noodles.
Vomiting can quickly dehydrate a small body, so keep water, diluted juice, and sports drinks near your child, and encourage frequent sips. Flat cola or ginger ale may soothe a queasy stomach. (Boil soda briefly or leave bottle open to kill carbonation.)
Drinking too much at once, which can trigger vomiting. Fatty foods and milk products may aggravate nausea.
SYMPTOM: Sore throat or cough
Choose cool foods that soothe the throat and soft foods that go down easily: pudding, gelatin, and fruit smoothies.
Painful swallowing makes some children reluctant even to drink. Have your child suck on ice chips (if she's 2 or older) or regular or rehydration ice pops. Warm tea with honey is also soothing.
Citrus and salt, which may irritate the throat. Dairy items can make a swollen throat or congestion uncomfortable.
Caloric requirements increase as fever rises; bland foods, like oatmeal, mashed potatoes, and pudding, may appeal to a feverish child.
Fever quickly uses up the body's water stores, which are also lost through sweating when the fever breaks. Encourage your child to drink cool water, diluted juices, and/or rehydration fluids.
Frozen foods, which may aggravate fever-related chills.
Chicken soup has been proven to temporarily reduce airway inflammation; plus, it's an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
Warm liquids hydrate and help to dilute mucus, which lessens risk of infection. Warm lemonade soothes and provides vitamin C. Hot apple juice with cinnamon or clove may help open airways.
Dairy products, which coat the mouth and throat, and may be uncomfortable when a child is congested.
Small amounts of food help the body absorb water. Many doctors recommend a diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Replenish lost fluids with water and/or rehydration solutions. A large plastic drinking cup with a lid and straw can make sipping more fun.
Salty, sugared, or dairy foods, which can be hard to digest. Undiluted juices, fruit, and fatty foods can worsen diarrhea.