What to feed your child after a stomach virus

Along with the winter dip in temperatures, also comes a rise in seasonal viruses. With a widespread flu outbreak this year, children are at an even higher risk of coming in contact with a virus that will keep them from school. Though the occasional stomach virus is likely inevitable, knowing what to feed your child shortly after a virus can help them bounce back and recover more quickly.

A viral gastroenteritis, or “stomach flu”, occurs when a virus infects the lining of the stomach and/or small intestine, causing symptoms of nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fatigue. After prolonged vomiting and diarrhea, the lining of the stomach and intestines become irritated, and change the ability of the body to digest and absorb food and beverages.

Though many symptoms of the viruses improve within 24-48 hours, it sometimes takes up to a week for the stomach and intestines to fully recover, and re-introducing foods at the right time can help to prevent further irritation.

The rules for re-feeding:

  1. Be Patient: A virus needs to take its course, so wait about 2 hours after the last episode of vomiting before offering your little patient anything to drink.   
  2. Hydration is essential, food is a bonus: Children can go a few days without eating much solid food, but can become severely dehydrated much more quickly. Once the vomiting has subsided, start with sips of clear liquids like water, rehydration solutions, sports drinks, or clear diluted juices. Ice chips, Jell-O, and non-dairy popsicles also help to rehydrate.
  3. Slow and Steady: Most children can start with bland, solid foods about 4-6 hours after tolerating clear liquids. Offer one item at a time, in very small portions. The chart below gives an example of the best foods to try. Start with Stage 1, and then move forward through Stages 2 and 3. Slowly re-introduce the “Foods to Avoid” items several days after all symptoms are resolved.

The advice below can never take the place of an evaluation by your child’s health care provider, but hopefully, they will help your child be on the mend soon after illness:

Stage 1 - Clear Liquids Stage 2 - Bland Foods Stage 3 - More Complex Foods to Avoid
Rehydration Solutions
Sports Drinks
Clear Juices
Flavored Gelatin
Saltine Crackers
Toast or Bread (Plain or with Jelly)
White Rice
Baked Potato
Lean Baked Meats
Well-Cooked Veggies
Broth-Based Soups
Fried Foods
High-Fat Foods
Spicy Foods

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