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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

What To Eat When You’re Sick!

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When you have a sore throat, cough, fever, body aches, the works, you may be wondering what to eat when you’re sick! While taking over the counter medication can help reduce your symptoms temporarily, they don’t actually fight the virus, or rid your body of germs. Instead, fueling your body with nutrient rich foods that help soothe your symptoms and provide your body with the nutrients needed to get better faster!

Being sick is the worst! Whether you have the common cold and a stuffy nose, the stomach flu, or one of the other flu viruses that float around every year, it’s never fun to be sick. While having a healthy immune system is one of the keys to fighting off bacterial or viral infections, certain foods can help boost your immunity to help you get better faster!

Most people, when they’re sick, will use over the counter medications to help manage their symptoms. But there are also more natural ways to help your body recover (either in addition to or instead of over the counter meds, depending on how sick you are feeling!)

We know bacterial infections respond to fermented foods such as Greek yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, so what works when you have a virus or the flu?

I’ve developed a rather unique diet to help improve my immune function and ease my sensitive flu-ish stomach and my cough/cold symptoms. I thought I’d share my tips on what to eat when you’re sick — some of the best foods to eat when you have the flu, and that can help improve your overall health too!

Foods Rich In Vitamin C

lots of fluids - what to eat when you're sick

Eating foods that are rich in vitamin C is the best way to help boost your immune system. Regularly eating vitamin C rich foods has been proven in research to reduce the severity and longevity of cold and flu symptoms in some individuals. But you don’t have to just settle for orange juice.

Vitamin C is a vitamin and antioxidant that the body uses to maintain bones, muscles, an blood vessels. It also helps with the formation of collagen and helps the body absorb iron.

Vitamin C is an important nutrient in citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits. But vitamin C can also be found in foods like yellow bell peppers, parsley, mustard spinach, kale, kiwi, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and strawberries.

Highly acidic foods such as citrus foods may be difficult to tolerate if you are sick with an upset stomach. So, if your tummy doesn’t like citrus when you’re sick, try some of the other non-acidic fresh fruit, fruit juices, and vegetables that are high in vitamin C instead!

Warm Broth Soups

There’s a reason people think eating chicken noodle soup and bone broth when they are sick is a good idea! It does help you feel better! Warm broth soups can help clear a runny nose and nasal passages and in turn help you breath more easily. Chicken broth is also soothing to a sore throat and easy on your stomach, making it an ideal food to fuel your body when you are down for the count!

If you are vegetarian, and don’t eat chicken soup, other warm broth soups work just as well! If you don’t have the energy to make your own homemade soup when you’re sick, you can find simple and nutritious soups at your local supermarket. Be sure to add some protein to your soups! Some types of amino acids can decrease the duration of cold and flu symptoms.

My Favorites Include…

  • Butternut Squash Soup from Trader Joe’s
  • Roasted Red Pepper & Tomato Soup From Trader Joe’s
  • Organic Vegetable Broth with Noodles from Trader Joe’s
  • Classic Minestrone:There are tons of great canned minestrones that you can just heat up and eat. This is a good option if your stomach feels like it can handle some veggies & beans/cheese for protein & fiber.

You may want to consider adding spicy foods to your soups! Foods such as chili peppers can help break up mucus and clear out your sinus passages.

Hot Herbal Teas And Drinks

Drinking hot beverages such as hot tea is another way to help soothe your sore throat, and get needed hydration. It can be one of the easiest and best things you can do for your body when you’re sick! However, when choosing hot drinks stick with ones that are lower in caffeine. High caffeine drinks such as coffee, and soda can further dehydrate you when you’re sick.

  • Hot Ginger Tea can help soothe a sore throat and clear your nose. If you don’t have ginger tea, give ginger ale a try, or put some fresh ginger in hot water and let it steep (like tea!)
  • Green Tea with Lemon is rich in antioxidants that help relieve some cold symptoms.
  • A cup of Hot Water with Lemon and Honey: The hot water & honey soothes your throat and helps in releasing some of the icky phlegm that tends to build up when you’re sick. This is definitely a staple when I’m trying to cure myself of the flu.
  • Chai Tea with Organic Milk: I love the spiciness of the Chai Black Tea with a little bit of milk or soy milk to top it off.

Golden Latte (Turmeric And Milk)

golden milk latte (or turmeric latte) in a glass cup with cinnamon, against an orange background

A Golden Latte is one of my mom’s tried and true recipes for healing a sore throat, easing a cough, or just helping you feel better in general (it’s also an age old Ayurvedic remedy). Turmeric is a great spice because of its anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial properties, and antioxidant properties.

How you make a golden latte: heat 2 cups 1% organic milk or non-dairy milk with 1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric powder, a pinch each of freshly grated ginger, sugar or honey to taste, and 1 cinnamon stick (you can also add cardamom if you like). Cook until the milk comes to a full boil. Drink it while it’s hot.

Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

kale smoothie in a glass against a white background with a green and white straw

When you’re sick it’s important to eat lots of whole fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamins and minerals to help keep your body fueled with the good things it needs to heal! Choose fruits and vegetables with dark, rich colors like blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and blackberries; and dark leafy greens like kale, and spinach.

While it can be feel difficult to eat fresh fruits and vegetables when you’re not feeling well, placing them in smoothies is a great way to eat your fruits and veggies in a simple way! You can also add coconut water to any smoothie for some more natural electrolytes — it’s also a good way to squeeze in some more hydration when you’re sick!

Easy Smoothie Recipes For When You’re Sick

Easy Comfort Meals To Eat When You’re Sick

When it comes to simple meals when you’re sick you want something that is warm and comforting, easy on the throat, and gentle on your stomach. These meals are hearty and filling, plus they are super easy and quick to make when you have zero energy to spend in the kitchen!

Bowl Of Oatmeal

how to make oatmeal taste good - blueberry oatmeal on a wooden cutting board

Oatmeal is a go-to favorite. It’s warming, filling, and easy on your stomach. Mix it with some whole milk for added vitamin D. My favorites to make are my blueberry oatmeal and banana bread oatmeal. For more oatmeal inspiration, see this guide on How To Make Oatmeal Taste Good!

Easy Sandwiches

An easy sandwich either filled with nut butter and honey, or stacked with fresh vegetables is quick, easy, and has tons of vitamins, nutrients, protein and fiber! Making sure to fill up on solid foods will help you feel full and satiated.

  • Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich: There’s just something about a hot sandwich that’s both sweet and savory that warms you from the inside out.
  • Mediterranean Sandwich: A healthy vegetarian mediterranean sandwich with slices of fresh feta, chopped olives, sweet sliced tomatoes, and red pepper! A comforting simple meal that makes a delicious easy lunch or light dinner!
  • Greek Pita Sandwich: Packed with veggies, chickpeas, and a touch of olive oil, this Stuffed Pita Sandwich with Yogurt Sauce is perfect for an easy, plant-based, healthy lunch! This filling dish is made with fresh cucumbers, garlic, mint, whole wheat pitas, chickpeas, arugula, tomatoes, and seasonings that create a vibrant, delicious meal. 

It can be difficult to want to eat anything when you’re sick! But your body needs nutrient rich food to help you heal.

Foods To Eat When You Have The Stomach Flu

Getting a stomach bug can be such a pain to recover from! And initially when you have the stomach flu, you may not be able to eat anything. In that case, lots of liquids and cool fluids is key to keeping you hydrated so you don’t feel even worse!

Depending on what type of stomach bug you have, you may only be able to keep down foods on the brat diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), or really mild foods like saltine crackers and white bread that are easy on your digestive system. As you start to feel better you can incorporate some of these other foods on this list to help you recover based on what you can handle!

Foods To Avoid When You’re Sick

  • Heavy Comfort Foods: Rich foods that are heavy in butter, cream, or cheese will weigh you down and can upset your stomach.
  • Junk Foods: High in fat, and processed ingredients these are some of the worst foods to eat when you’re sick. They will make you feel more sluggish and tired, and will likely make you feel worse rather than better.
  • Sports Drinks: Marketed to provide you with electrolytes, these drinks are high in sugar.
  • High Sugar Foods like Ice Cream: While ice cream may seem soothing on a sore throat, it’s high in sugar and fat, and doesn’t offer any nutritional value.
  • Dairy Products: Not all dairy products need to be avoided, but dairy should be eaten in moderation, especially if you have the flu, since dairy can trigger increased mucous production.

Even if you’re too sick to eat anything, trying to eat just a little of the right foods will help your healing journey.

For more eye-opening health guides on what goes into your favorite products, take a look at these food guides:

If you have found this guide on what to eat when you’re sick helpful, or tried any other recipe on my blog, then feel free to reach out to me in the comments below! I respond to every question and comment I get! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKTWITTER,  INSTAGRAM and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

20 responses to “What To Eat When You’re Sick!”

  1. Thank you, Anjali, for this helpful information. I wasn’t sure about Trader Joe’s vegetable broth because it’s not clear. I’m the twelfth day in and can still identify with your 20 steps maximum. I was prescribed a Z pack as a precaution (pneumonia); I suspect it’s weighing me down and affecting appetite more than the flu. I’m sorry you’re ill. It’s still weirdly reassuring that someone else who cares about good eating didn’t escape this bug. This, too, will pass. May it be soon for us both.

    • I hope you feel better soon Maryanne! You can use Trader Joe’s vegetable broth – that should be fine. Rest up and feel better!!

  2. I’ve been sick for the past 3 days. I finally thought of trying chai tea to ease my sore throat… Just a few sips in and my sore throat and cough is already lessening!

    • So sorry to hear that you’ve been sick! I’m glad this post helped you — hope you feel better soon!

  3. I try to avoid anything with any type of milk in it because it tends to make phlegm thicker and harder to expel. So I stick to broths and try to drink as much as I can all day and night.

    • That makes complete sense Darlene! I generally avoid regular/plain milk when I’m sick with the flu too. However, the milk with turmeric actually helps ease mucous — the turmeric counteracts the milk’s phlegm-producing capabilities and is an anti-inflammatory spice. That’s the only type of milk I’ll drink when I’m sick!

  4. How would grilled stuff make you feel better? When I have the flu, I like to avoid greasy foods. Usually eat crackers, because anything else I eat I would throw up

    • Hi Mikayla! My “grilled” pb sandwich is actually not greasy at all – it’s a faux grilled version that’s made with a light olive oil spray. But it honestly depends on the type of flu / sickness you have – I wouldn’t recommend it for a stomach flu (for example). And everyone has to figure out what works best for them. These are just my favorites that work well for me. Hope that helps!

  5. Aren’t you missing out the most obvious choice? Homemade chicken noodle soup. I make mine with broccoli, carrots and rice noodles…and lots of garlic!=:))

    • Haha! You are right Mel – except I’m vegetarian so chicken noodle soup wouldn’t work for me 🙂 But yes, that is definitely one of the main “sick food” staples! Mainly because it’s hot, has a lot of broth (fluids are important when you’re sick), and it has a balanced amount of veggies and protein. Thanks for adding it to the list!

  6. Sorry to hear you haven’t been feeling well! I love that you use your husband’s sweatshirt as a snuggie, that would make anyone feel cozy and better! And turmeric, sugar and warm milk is a new one for me, I’ll have to try that next time I’m under the weather!

    • Thanks so much Emily!! And yes – the turmeric/milk combo is one of my favorite flu/cold remedies – you have to let me know how it works for you!

  7. Hope you get well soon! I like to eat spicy food during cold and flu … somehow it cheers me up 🙂 And that lemon honey water is excellent .. i add a little ginger too !

    • Thanks so much Kankana! Love the idea of adding ginger to the water – and yes, my mom would always make me spicy food to clear up my congestion when I was sick as a kid! Great suggestion!

  8. Hope you feel better soon! At least it appears you can still eat well with the flu!

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