The stomach flu (otherwise known as viral gastroenteritis) recently ripped its way through my household, which was great fun. I’ve seen a lot of it in my practice lately, too. A question I’m commonly asked by parents whose kids have the stomach flu, is: what can I give my kid to eat?
Here’s my answer (and this applies for both kids and grownups):
Dehydration is a potentially serious consequence of the stomach flu, and kids are particularly vulnerable. Start off with tiny amounts of clear fluid, given frequently. Water, ginger ale, Pedialyte (the adult version is called Gastrolyte), popsicles, jello, and clear soup broth. Some kids love Pedialyte, some don’t (my kids hate it), so here’s an alternative: make your own simple rehydration solution!
Recipe for homemade electrolyte replacement drink:
Some clear fluids contain a lot of sugar (and sugar can make diarrhea worse), like fruit juice, pop, and Gatorade. These are fine if they’re all your kid will take, but try to dilute them with water, or alternate them with other less sugary fluids.
How much to give? Just start with tiny amounts—sips, basically. Filling up a fragile stomach with large volumes of fluid will not feel good, and vomiting will inevitably follow. Just give small amounts until your little one can tolerate more, then gradually increase.
After the first 24 hours, once they’re not vomiting so much and they’re able to keep things down, they will probably start feeling very hungry. Once your child’s symptoms have subsided for about 12 hours, you can begin to move beyond clear fluids. But it’s important to NOT go back to a normal diet right away. Start gently, with mild, bland food. Specifically, now is the time for the BRAT diet:
Why these? All these foods are very easy on the digestive system and won’t cause more stomach upset. Again, the key is just tiny amounts to begin, and work your way up to larger amounts.
Once your kid is doing well on the BRAT diet, you can start to introduce other plain food, as tolerated. But ease into it.
Here’s a list of foods to avoid for the first couple of days, as they present more of a challenge to the GI tract:
The thing is, if you go back to regular food too quickly, it can flare up a kid's GI symptoms again. I see this all the time. People say, “He was just starting to get better, then suddenly got worse again!” It’s almost always because they went back to regular food too quickly.
Remember, your child's GI tract just got royally rocked—it needs a little time to recover and start functioning properly again. Give it time, and be gentle.
Got kids? Then you've got health questions. Here, what to do when your kid has a fever. And do you know how to get rid of head lice? (Even if you're not dealing with these issues right now . . . well, you might want to bookmark these for a future date. Just sayin'.)