The Classic Sick-Kid Lunch

June  5, 2015

If you like reading what Amanda feeds her kids, you'll love taking a look into what other people—both in the food world and the world at large—prepare for their own children (and occasionally their significant others and maybe even their pets). Prepare to be either resentful or appreciative of your own parents.

Today, Caroline Campion—the voice behind and the co-author of Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes and the Secrets to Happiness in the Kitchen—feeds her sick kid. 

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When it comes to school lunches, my two kids couldn’t be more different. My eight-year-old son, Conor, is strictly a peanut butter and jelly man (about as fancy as I get is to change up the flavor of jam and type of nut butter, and my one “trick” is to always swipe both sides of the bread with softened butter to keep the bread from drying out). 

More: Three ways to change up your usual PB&J.

On the other hand, my eleven-year-old daughter, Belle, loves everything in her lunchbox—from nori hand rolls with smoked salmon and Sriracha mayo, to last night’s spinach and ricotta ravioli, or homemade baba ghanoush with pita chips.

But sometimes, real life intervenes. Case in point: The lunch I recently prepared for Belle when she came home early from school with a stomach virus-bug-flu situation. You know those mornings where you’ve got big plans? Catch up on work e-mails! Prune the rose bushes! Exercise for real! Shampoo the dogs! Make banana bread! And then you get the call at 9:26 A.M. that your child is in the nurse’s office hugging a plastic garbage can?

So there goes the day’s big plans and with it, whatever I packed in the lunchbox gets nudged aside for the official Campion Family Sick Person Lunch Menu Plan. Once my daughter was through the rockiest parts of her bug, and tucked into the couch with the dogs and Head Hunters International on the T.V., I assembled a tray of what we consider the holy trinity of sick-kid lunch:

  • Saltines
  • Ginger Ale
  • Bananas

I always have the above three items stocked in the pantry—not because we’re felled by illness all that often, but when it does happen, it’s not like I’m going to drag a child who’s a pale shade of green to the supermarket. Plus, when is it a bad thing to have Saltines on hand? Need to assemble a quick cocktail snack to go with martinis and a nice wedge of cheese? Want something crunchy to crumble into that homemade tomato soup? Run out of crumbs for breading the chicken cutlets? Saltines are your friend. Ginger ale? Always refreshing. And bananas? Snacks, smoothies, and the aforementioned quick bread.

More: These four restorative recipes will have you—or your child—feeling better in no time. 

But back to the Saltines. To make them a bit more appealing, I serve them in one of the vintage enamelware dishes that I’ve taken to collecting at flea markets (dishwasher-safe, practically unbreakable, classic). Something about that retro presentation just makes the whole sick-at-home situation feel a little special...or at least not so awful.

What do you feed your sick children? Share with us in the comments below!

Photo by Caroline Campion

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Vanessa R. July 19, 2015
At our house it's steamed white rice with salt, or plain pasta with a little butter. When I was a kid, it was Campbell's chicken noodle soup, saltines and 7-Up.
kstallbe June 15, 2015
Great writing voice!
erincinco June 7, 2015
Saltines, flat 7up and watery Campbells chicken noodle soup. Nowadays, I do lemon-lime Gatorade, chicken dumpling soup, and...Saltines. I keep them double-bagged in the freezer, just in case.
Ashley M. June 7, 2015
Growing up my mom always gave us saltines, plain white rice and flat coke when we had the stomach flu. Now that I have a family of my own I do the same for my kiddos.
samira June 7, 2015
My mom always tells me to eat rice with milk and a lot of cinnamon on top. It's easy and usually works. You cook rice the way you usually do and before it is done, it should be almost dry, you add milk and let it cook until the milk is done. You then plate it up and sprinkle a lot of cinnamon (and sugar) on top.
Sarah J. June 7, 2015
when I was a kid, it was 7-Up I got when I couldn't keep anything else down. As a result, now drinking 7-Up evokes this odd combination of comfort and queasiness.
Vanessa R. July 19, 2015
Same here - I can't drink 7-Up without thinking of being sick as a kid.
ZipporahC June 7, 2015
I always want cheese pizza when I am nauseous. My friend who is lactose intolerant thought that was totally insane. Chicken soup with a cold, but as an adult it's depressing to be sick and trying to make your own chicken soup.
pianogirl June 7, 2015
Growing up in the Midwest, it was always saltines and Vernors Ginger ale! Dry toast ... no butter too!
Karin B. June 7, 2015
here's the casual french family doctor recommandation: eat plain steam rice wz a pinch of salt (for an easy digestion), raw apple wedges (to fight diarrhea) and drink regular Coke (against nausea).
LKNS June 7, 2015
Ginger ale and saltine were the food of choice for kids with a sick tummy at our house. And the Italian-American in me also thinks that pastina, either buttered or in a bit of broth, can cure just about anything.
Arglebargle June 10, 2015
I second the pasting in a bit of chicken broth with maybe a little but of butter or grated Parmesan. But just a little.
Panfusine June 5, 2015
It was always 'Kanji' when I fell sick as a kid, broken rice cooked into a dilute starchy porridge, seasoned with salt and pepper. for a taste contrast, dried salted preserved citron pieces on the side. Reading this post is making me nostalgic.