Q: What are some easy foods to feed a child on sick days? When my son is sick with a cold or stomach bug, it’s really difficult to get him to eat, which just makes everything worse.

A: Sick days can be extra challenging for a child with type 1 diabetes. The most important thing for parents to remember is to NEVER stop using insulin during sick days, even if it seems like the child isn’t keeping much food down. Just be aware that insulin doses may need to be changed depending on your child’s blood sugar levels when he’s sick. Your care team can help you determine the appropriate adjustments if you’re not sure how to do this.

Carbohydrate intake is also important to prevent lows when using insulin. On sick days, it’s generally recommended for kids to try to stick as closely as possible to regular meal and snack times and carbohydrate goals. If your child does not feel like eating normal foods, try substituting soup and other comfort foods that tend to be easy to keep down. For some easy ideas of what to serve, the following foods and beverages each contain about 15 grams (or 1 serving) of carbohydrate:

  • 1 cup Gatorade® sports drink
  • ½ cup fruit juice
  • 1 double-stick Popsicle® (not sugar-free)
  • ½ cup regular soft drink (not diet)
  • 6 saltine crackers
  • ½ cup regular ice cream
  • 1/3 cup frozen yogurt
  •  5 vanilla wafer cookies
  •  ½ cup custard
  • 4 Lifesavers® hard candies
  • ½ cup mashed potatoes
  • 3 graham crackers
  • ½ cup sherbet
  • 1 slice dry toast (not light bread)
  • ¼ cup regular pudding
  • ½ cup regular Jell-O® (not sugar-free)
  • ½ cup cooked cereal

In addition to these foods, encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, including water and other noncaffeinated drinks. It’s easy to run low on fluids when you’re vomiting or have a fever or diarrhea, so have a supply on hand of both calorie-free liquids (for when blood sugar readings might be high) and calorie-containing liquids (if blood sugar readings seem to be falling low).

Extra fluids also help to get rid of extra glucose (and possibly ketones) in the blood. If your child stops taking in fluids, especially when his blood sugar is high, contact your diabetes team or doctor, as this may cause dehydration. Dehydration may also be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis. If you haven’t already, ask your care team for a list of signs (excessive vomiting, high fever, etc.) that mean you should give them a call.

What else can help? Don’t forget Grandma’s favorite cold remedy! A one-cup serving of canned chicken soup contains approximately 16 grams of carbohydrates.

–Darcy de la Rosa, R.D., C.D.E., is a registered dietitian at the Florida Center for Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando.


How Other Parents Deal

“Part of how I get my 9-year-old to eat on sick days is to keep several foods in rotation to keep him interested in trying something new. I might make a small batch of Jell-O and offer a serving of that, and then offer soup and crackers, juice, fruit pops, and whatever else he can keep down. It helps.”

–Stephanie L., mom of 9-year-old Hunter


Related topics:
People in the Know: Cold and Flu Season

See more People in the Know questions and answers >


Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.

All trademarks are the property of their respective owners.