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How to Get Kids to Eat When They Don’t Feel Well

When your child doesn’t feel well, eating may be the last thing they want to do. But it’s important to encourage foods and fluids when possible.

“When I see a pediatric patient, my first concern is, ‘Can they eat?’ Then it’s, ‘Are they eating?’” says Beth Gordon, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.

“Many parents are extremely worried about their child not eating, so I offer a variety of ideas to fit in foods and fluids during the child’s illness.”

Healthy eating is not necessarily the goal, Gordon explains. “When kids don’t feel well, sometimes healthy eating needs to be put on the back burner, and we’ll work on just getting them to eat in general,” she says. “Once they feel better, then we can get back to healthier options.”

Gordon offers five helpful tips to fit in foods and fluids during a child’s illness:

  1. Provide them with small, frequent meals and/or snacks. Sometimes it’s easier for kids to eat snacks throughout the day.
  2. Make specialty-shaped foods, such as Mickey Mouse pancakes.
  3. Make smoothies and ice cream shakes to get both food and fluids in them at the same time.
  4. Offer popsicles and Italian ice, which are great alternatives for fluids and can help soothe fevers or sore throats.
  5. Purchase food from the child’s favorite restaurant, as appropriate for the child’s illness.

“It’s all about looking at the big picture and helping children maintain and thrive while ill,” says Gordon. “I would love it if all kids could have a balanced diet of lean proteins, fruits, veggies and whole grains, but that isn’t always realistic when they’re sick.”