What to Feed a Child With Stomach Flu

Stomach viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea, also called gastroenteritis, are among the most unpleasant facts of life for both adults and children 1. These illnesses are typically short in duration but produce intense symptoms. Although most people do not want to eat during the acute phase of gastroenteritis, you must stay hydrated during your illness and then cautiously resume eating certain foods as you feel better. Use extreme caution in managing stomach illnesses in children because dehydration can occur quickly and may lead to serious complications.

Causes of Stomach Flu

"Stomach flu" is a commonly used term that refers to any gastrointestinal illness involving nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. This is an inaccurate term, however, because the illness is not caused by the influenza virus. The Norwalk virus, also called norovirus, is a highly contagious bug that produces gastrointestinal symptoms. Illnesses that cause intense vomiting that lasts for 12 to 24 hours usually are not viruses at all but more likely are cases of food poisoning.


Although recovery from gastroenteritis is usually quick and uncomplicated, infants are susceptible to complications from dehydration. Frequent diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration very quickly in infants because of their lower body weight 1. During the acute stage of vomiting, give only small sips of liquid every five to 30 minutes; much of the liquid given may quickly come back up. Once the episodes of vomiting or diarrhea slow to every one to two hours, you can give your child small sips of liquid, such as breast milk, diluted white grape juice or a pediatric rehydration fluid, every five to 10 minutes 1. Do not resume feeding formula until vomiting has slowed to every two to four hours or stopped altogether.

Older Children

Older children go through the same stages of illness as infants. The first acute stage includes vomiting every five to 30 minutes; during this period let your child to drink only small sips of water. You can allow your child to drink larger sips of water or a pediatric rehydration fluid once vomiting slows down. When vomiting is infrequent or has stopped, you can reintroduce bland foods, such as crackers, clear soup broth, applesauce or dry toast. Do not give sports drinks during the recovery period because they contain too much sugar. Avoid sugary and fatty foods during the recovery period and for several days afterwards to avoid irritating the stomach.

Dehydration Symptoms

Dehydration is a potential risk in children recovering from stomach viruses. Because infants can develop dehydration more quickly, you must watch them closely for the signs. Call your pediatrician or go to the hospital if your infant is still vomiting every five to 30 minutes after eight hours. Seek medical attention if your toddler is in the acute stage for 12 hours, or 16 hours for older children. Signs of dehydration include concentrated or no urine, dry lips, no tears and fussiness or listlessness. If your child becomes dehydrated, he may need hospitalization to receive intravenous fluids.

Managing Diarrhea

Stomach viruses may cause diarrhea instead of, or in addition to, vomiting. When diarrhea is a primary symptom, avoid allowing your child to eat for four to six hours. Try giving one ounce of liquid, such as water or a pediatric rehydration drink, every 30 to 60 minutes. When your child begins eating again, feed smaller meals of mild, non-greasy foods every two to three hours instead of feeding larger meals.

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