Caused by the influenza virus, flu is a common respiratory illness that is extremely contagious and affects many children every year. The infection affects the lungs, nose and throat. The symptoms of flu normally start in one to four days post-infection. Normally, the infection occurs instantly. Flu usually lasts for one or two weeks, while the acute symptoms fade away in three to four days (varies from one individual to another). If the flu symptoms go away and return, it is crucial to get instant medical care.

Flu and nutrition

A child who has low immunity is more susceptible to flu than a child who is healthy and strong. Hence, adequate and balanced nutrition is of paramount importance. Remember that a sick child has a decreased appetite or is "anorexic", which results in a vicious cycle (chain reaction) of diseases and under-nutrition, which can be life-threatening. When a child is unhealthy or sick, he or she may become too weak to eat, lack the power to perform common tasks, and face problems with swallowing.

Stomach flu is another common ailment that affects young children. This happens when a child suffers from gastroenteritis, or an infection of the bowel. Symptoms might include diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. Gastro problems can also result in stomach pain. Hence, a child might refuse to eat after stomach flu, resulting in further malnutrition.

All in all, a flu infection can impact the growth and development of a child. Recurrent episodes of this disease can hamper the immune system, making the kid more susceptible to infections. So, providing proper nutrition after the illness subsides is important.

Providing a nutritious diet after the flu

It is important to feed a child a nutritious diet after flu, as this will help him or her recover from any weight loss that might have occurred. Good food can also boost immunity. A balanced diet will compensate for nutrient losses. And fluid intake should also be increased.

-How to feed the child post-illness/flu?

  • After flu, the quantity of food needs to be increased to regain the lost weight.
  • Feed your child small amounts at frequent intervals, and provide an additional meal or snack each day, for the next two weeks.
  • Provide your kid with energy and nutrient-dense meals and snacks.
  • Be alert if your child who is recovering shows a sudden increase in appetite.
  • Instead of providing sugary beverages or caffeinated drinks, offer plain water or liquids that are nutritious such as coconut water, rice water, dal water, lassi, and buttermilk.
  • Also consider giving him or her boiled water to prevent further infections or water-borne diseases.
  • Track the quantities of food and fluids consumed by the child. This way, you can inform the doctor in case you notice anything abnormal.

What food to give a child post illness?

Kids above the age of 5 years should be provided with foods that are rich in energy and nutrients, so that they can regain their original weight and energy. Hence, you should offer foods like fish, eggs, milk, chicken and more (depending on the illness/condition). You can also supply additional nutrients or energy by adding milk powder i.e. dry, to porridges or while preparing rotis or parathas. Or, you can add groundnuts, honey, or jaggery to different foods, when required. The frequency of feeding needs to be increased for a sick child as he or she might not be able to absorb the food properly as before.

Some tips

During illness

  • If the appetite of your child has reduced, provide a variety of foods, and the ones he or she likes.
  • Be patient and calm while feeding your kid.
  • Your child should be in a sitting position while eating to avoid choking.
  • If he or she vomits, take a break and start feeding your child after 10-15 minutes, with food and liquids.
  • Avoid forcing the child to consume meals.

During recovery

  • Try to give an extra meal or snack for at least 2 weeks.
  • It is important to note that recovery can be a lengthy process. Parents and others need to be more attentive in terms of feeding the child for at least the next 2 weeks post illness.
  • Increased quantities of healthy foods should be offered. Foods like meat, fish, liver, milk, eggs, fruits, and vegetables are recommended, especially for meeting the needs of a malnourished or underweight child. Keep offering extra food until your child regains his or her original weight and strength.

Like any other illness, flu can deprive your child of nutrition, energy and strength. So, following the above tips is essential when it comes to nutrition. You can also consult a doctor or dietician for personalised meal plans, in case your child is a fussy eater or has allergies.