Diarrhea foods for toddlers. What should you feed your toddler when she has diarrhea? Here’s what to know about nutrition and low fiber foods for diarrhea to help manage little upset tummies.
Why do kids get diarrhea?
Anyone who has ever had a newborn is all too familiar with the many phases of poop (as a side note, apparently highlighter colored stools can be totally normal).
This is all part of the normal digestive development process. Babies, of course, go through many stages when it comes to gastrointestinal health as their intestinal tract grows and develops.
But what about when it comes to toddlers? What’s considered normal and when do changes in stool require treatment?
Toddlers will experience diarrhea just like anyone else, and you may never know what exactly triggers it. Young kids still have highly sensitive tummies and pick up bugs easily in the community, at school, or other places they might spend time with other adorable little germ factories.
Some toddlers may actually develop a sort of chronic diarrhea, called “toddler’s diarrhea” or chronic nonspecific diarrhea of childhood. This is actually the most common cause of diarrhea in this age group, among otherwise healthy kids.
Rest assured that toddler’s diarrhea is typically harmless and resolves in 90% of kids by the time they are between 4 and 5 years old.
Still, nobody likes having diarrhea, so it’s good to understand what might cause it, exacerbate it, and ultimately, what you can do to make your babe feel better.
Some potential factors contributing to toddler’s diarrhea include:
- A low fat, high fiber diet
- Too much fluid intake, from water or otherwise
- A digestive tract that is simply not fully developed yet
- Poorly absorbed carbohydrates, specifically ones like sorbitol and fructose that are often present in fruit juices and similar products
When to see a doctor for diarrhea
Diarrhea is defined as having 5-10 loose, watery, large bowel movements per day. This may last several days, or even several weeks, followed by normal bowel movements.
Although diarrhea is typically a normal part of life, here are some reasons to call your pediatrician:
- If your baby has diarrhea and is under 6 months old
- If your child has a fever
- If there is blood in the stool
- If the stools are greasy or oily
- If your child is complaining of severe stomach pain
- If your child cannot control their bowel movements and is having accidents
- Vomiting or cannot keep food and water down
- If your child is losing weight or cannot put weight back on
- OR, any other reason you may be concerned or just want some peace of mind (we always recommend calling a health professional if you have even an inkling of concern about your child’s health)
Your child’s pediatrician may want you to bring him in to be seen, or may have suggestions for what to do at home to help slow and treat the diarrhea. This may involve medication, fluids and foods, and/or waiting and observing.
What to feed toddlers with diarrhea
Having a child with diarrhea can be super frustrating, especially if they can’t quite communicate to you exactly how they’re feeling.
The good news is, even when you’re feeling helpless, there are some things you can do at home to help support them.
One of the first things we recommend, of course, is snuggling with them on the couch with a good book! But, we also suggest adjusting their diet accordingly, which typically means a lower fiber, low sugar, bland menu, and plenty of fluids.
Nutrition tips for managing diarrhea in toddlers:
1. Keep them hydrated.
The best sources of hydration are plain water and an electrolyte solution. We don’t recommend sugary beverages like fruit juice for kids in general, and especially not during bouts of diarrhea.
Oral rehydration therapy, or Pedialyte, is usually recommended following bouts of vomiting and diarrhea to replenish essential minerals. While pediatric drinks for this purpose are getting better as far as ingredients, it’s actually easy to make your own at home!
This DIY version is from the UNICEF guidelines on rehydration and is an inexpensive option over brand name drinks. It also contains the essentials electrolytes sodium and chloride. We don’t normally encourage sugary drinks, but the sugar here is essential as glucose accelerates the absorption of both the water and salt. Since this is meant to be used on occasion and not as a daily drink, we don’t sweat the regular sugar called for in this recipe.
Homemade Pedialyte Recipe
Mix together 5 cups water, 6 level teaspoons sugar, and 1/2 level teaspoon salt, until solids are dissolved. It’s better to have this be diluted than too concentrated, as excess sugar can make diarrhea worse.
Children under 2 need ~1/2 cup after each bout of diarrhea or vomiting and children over age 2 need ~ 1 cup of this drink after. For super sick babes, you can feed them via spoon or syringe.
2. Increase the amount of fat in your child’s diet
This doesn’t need to be excessive, but because a low-fat diet has been linked to some cases of diarrhea, increasing your child’s healthy fat intake may help bulk up stools.
Research suggests a diet made up of 35-40% of calories from fat is a good approach for diarrhea. Kids at this age should be getting a significant portion of their calories from fat as it is.
Healthy fats that may help alleviate diarrhea include:
- Avocados: Offer these in slices or mashed on toast
- Olive oil: Spread this on toast, mix it into oatmeal or applesauce, or drizzle on canned or cooked veggies
- Butter: Spread this on toast and pancakes, or mix it into mashed potatoes
- Nut butters: This can be thinned with water and mixed with oatmeal or drizzled on mashed bananas and toast
3. Reduce the amount of fiber in your child’s diet
This can feel counter-intuitive for predominantly plant-based families, as we’re so used to eating fiber, but when your child has diarrhea it may be best to turn to low-fiber foods temporarily.
One of the reasons fiber is so good for us, and is recommended to help prevent the development of chronic diseases like colorectal cancer, is because it helps to move things through the body. During phases of diarrhea, this is just about the last thing you want.
Oppositely, lower fiber, low-sugar, bland (non-spicy or heavily seasoned) foods are best to help alleviate symptoms and slow diarrhea.
You may have heard of the BRAT diet before, which is frequently prescribed for diarrhea management, and stands for Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. These foods of course fall into the above low fiber, bland category.
Here are some diarrhea-friendly food ideas for toddlers:
- White breads with less than 2 grams of fiber per serving
- Crackers made with white refined grains (e.g., Saltines, Graham crackers, and other varieties that melt in your mouth)
- White pasta and rice
- Unsweetened plain applesauce
- Mashed potatoes with butter
- Canned or peeled and cooked soft low-fiber veggies like carrots, green beans, and squash
- Oatmeal or cream of wheat
- Cooked eggs (if your family eats eggs)
- Plain unsweetened plant-based milks or yogurts
If it seems like nutrition takes a back burner to diarrhea, that’s because it kind of does. And that’s really okay! While your kiddo’s tummy settles, it’s important to offer foods that are best tolerated and won’t make symptoms worst. When appetite returns, nutrition will too.
Note that if your child is NOT used to eating a high-fiber diet – in other words, if he eats mostly low-fiber foods normally – then increasing fiber intake may be an appropriate approach here to bulk up loose stools.
Still, foods should be introduced gently, but things like whole grain toast and pasta, beans, fruit, and veggies can be helpful in this case.
4. Be gentle and have patience
We know how stressful it is when your kiddo is sick, but we also emphasize the importance of letting some bouts of illness run their course.
As much as we want our kids to eat, drink, and feel better, pushing these things can do more harm than good. Hydration is key during diarrhea, but excessive fluid intake can also backfire.
And therapeutic foods are great, but know that a nutrient-rich diet will return when your kiddo is feeling better.
Diarrhea foods for kids don’t have to be significantly different from foods you normally have in your home.
It’s a good idea to keep a few low-sugar, bland, low fiber foods for diarrhea in your pantry, as well as the makings for homemade oral replacement therapy, for when a stomach bug inevitably hits.
Having some of these options on hand can help resolve diarrhea gently and get your babe feeling better quick.
Chime In: Have you found other remedies that work well when your babe has diarrhea? Share them in the comments!
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