Sarah McClellan-Brandt: What to eat when you’re sick

🕐 5 min read

Like many families in North Texas this winter and spring, my household has been besieged with some form of illness in rotation among the four of us since January. From COVID to multiple stomach bugs, to unending allergies, sinus infections and something decidedly flu-like, we’ve had it all in the past few months. And while my normal go-to is piping hot pho takeout from Pho Noodle and Grill, with so many different illnesses over such a stretch of time, we needed some variety.

There are three kinds of sick meals: takeout options, when you are cooking for the sick ones, and when you are the sick one being cooked for.

Soups and broths are the obvious answer, and they are almost always on the menu for the first day or two of any illness. For the takeout option, I’ve already mentioned pho and it hits the spot for all cold, flu, and COVID nourishment needs. This Vietnamese soup is made from a slowly simmered bone broth, the meat of your choice (I always opt for the thinly sliced chicken), and rice noodles, topped with basil, jalapeños, and sprouts, and works best with a large dollop of sriracha. The hotter the better. There are dozens of amazing Vietnamese restaurants dotted throughout the city, but if you are cooking for someone who is sick and want to try your hand at this, I recommend purchasing a copy of Andrea Nguyen’s “The Pho Cookbook.” It tells you in explicit detail how to get the exact correct flavors in your broth, and your house will smell amazing when you make her recipes. It takes all day to do it right, and it’s worth every minute.

If you lean toward Italian flavors, minestrone or a pasta e fagioli are great options for something light, healthy, and comforting. If you are closer to the East side, Italy Pasta and Pizza has one of the best pasta e fagioli soups I’ve tried (and I am  a self-proclaimed soup connoisseur).

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Depending on the severity of sickness, another great takeout option is the almighty juice. Nothing quells a scratchy throat quite like a carrot, orange, lemon and ginger juice (called “The Buzz”) from Nektar. Most juice places, including the juice bar at Whole Foods, have something similar. A simple green juice works wonders on a dehydrated post-stomach flu body or after you’ve taken decongestants and need hydration.

After you’ve had all the takeout you can stand, the home-cooking begins. But where to start? It depends on who’s sick.

If it’s kids, well, it depends on the kid. Mine are super picky, and when they’re sick I just do the best I can to get nutrients of any kind into them. Simple broths, plain rice, toast – that’s about as adventurous as we get. To keep dairy low on sick tummies, we make homemade popsicles with coconut milk and fruit that go down well during these times. They are super easy, here’s how to make them:

Homemade dairy-free popsicles

  • 1/2 cup coconut cream (skimmed from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk)
  • 1/4 cup honey or pure maple syrup
  • 2 cups fruit of choice (I used a frozen blend of strawberries and blueberries)
  • 1 tsp grass-fed gelatin powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
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  • Place the gelatin in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water for about five minutes. Place the gelatin mixture and all of the other ingredients in a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, then pour into popsicle molds and freeze. I use push-pop bags found on Amazon. Makes roughly ten, depending on the size of your mold.

If you are cooking for a sick spouse, soups are always a good bet. Leek and potato soup is a nice change from the tried and true chicken noodle, and is easy and quick. There are only three basic ingredients besides water and spices – leeks, potatoes, and garlic.

Leek and potato soup with garlic

Servings 8

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  • 2 large leeks, trimmed and chopped
  • 6 small gold potatoes, washed well and chopped
  • 10-12 cups water
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)
  • 1 tsp cracked pepper (to taste)


  • Fill a large pot about halfway with water. This will be roughly 10 cups, a little less or a little more depending on the size of your pan, potatoes and leeks. Bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse the leeks, chop off the wilted ends (about an inch) and the root piece. Slice them lengthwise, then chop in inch-long pieces. Place in a colander and rinse well, assuring that all of the dirt is gone. Clean the potatoes well, then slice lengthwise and chop the halves into inch-long pieces. Toss all of the pieces into the pot, and turn the water down to a simmer. Add the salt, pepper, and let everything simmer about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes and leeks are soft. Add the garlic, and let it simmer about another five minutes. Turn the heat off and serve hot.

If you are sick and cooking for yourself, the easier the better! Cold smoothies soothe sore throats and only take a few minutes to throw together. Fruit, greens, ice, juice or dairy-free milk and yogurt with a scoop of protein or collagen powder can make all the difference when your appetite is low but you know you need nourishment.

Simple pastas and rice dishes are also a good addition to soups and smoothies when you’re under the weather. For more good ideas, go to and search 10 Quick and Nourishing Meals to Make on a Sick Day. There is a spinach orzo dish I might try the next time I’m down and out.

Making any of these dishes? Take a pic and tag us on Instagram @ModernHippieKitchen and @FWBusinessPress! For more recipes, find me at

Sarah McClellan-Brandt
Sarah McClellan-Brandt first wrote for the Business Press in 2003-2006 as her first job out of TCU, and it only took her a decade and a half to figure out that food writing might be her calling. She created the recipe blog Modern Hippie Kitchen in 2020 for the same reason many new food bloggers did – to quell pandemic boredom and share the cooking lessons she’d been teaching herself and learning from poring over dozens of cookbooks.

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