What Should Kids Eat Before and After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine? Here's What Pediatricians Say

In case they experience any of the mild symptoms, these foods can help your kids feel better, stat.

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Now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have placed their stamp of approval on the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5 to 11 years old, parents across America are probably wondering, "How can I protect my child from the post-shot symptoms I experienced for the first 24 to 48 hours after receiving the vaccine?"

Since they're essentially little versions of us and are receiving the same vaccine, just in a smaller dose (10 micrograms compared to 30 micrograms for grown-ups), they may experience similar side effects. "Children ages 12 through 15 who were given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine had side effects similar to those experienced by people age 16 and older," explains Neelofar K. Butt, M.D., a pediatrician at Westmed Medical Group in Yonkers, New York.

Very much worth mentioning up front: All of these the most commonly reported side effects are much milder than the pain experienced by the hundreds of children ages 5 to 11 who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 this year, per FDA data. And remembering that 94 kids age 5 to 11 have died from COVID-19-related complications between January 1 and October 16, 2021, adds urgency to the goal of vaccinating younger children.

"In the vaccine trials, kids mostly experienced arm pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain and chills, very similar to what was seen in adults. Symptoms usually resolve in a day or two," says Megan Culler Freeman, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric infectious diseases fellow at the UPMC in Pittsburgh. There's no need to be nervous about any of these mild symptoms, as they will be short-lived and are a sign that your child's immune system is readying itself for future confrontations with the virus, adds Daniel Cohen, M.D., a pediatrician at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York.

Compared to those 12 to 18 who have received their COVID-19 vaccine, far fewer kids 5 to 11 had fever or headache after the vaccine, says Sara Kenamore, M.D., a pediatrician at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York.

"So I would not necessarily plan for a certain sick day, but I would certainly be a little extra sympathetic to a request to take it easy the next day," Kenamore says.

Any side effects should be relatively short-lived and most likely will improve within 24 hours. Just like with other vaccines kids receive, such as those that protect from tetanus, hepatitis and measles, "the post-vaccination side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine will vary greatly among children, including no side effects whatsoever," says Butt.

Whether they have a few sniffles or soreness or feel good as new, these feeding tips from the pros will help them feel even better, stat, in addition to everyone resting easier knowing that within two weeks, they're 91% protected from COVID-19 for months to come.

A young girl with a bandaid over her vaccine shot area on a designed backrground of food
Getty Images / FG Trade / marilyna

What Kids Should Eat and Drink Before and After Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

Before the Shot

"There aren't any specific foods that will make the vaccine work better," Freeman says. So feed them as you normally would prior to their vaccine shot appointment. (Hopefully this includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins! Just in case you're craving some inspiration, here's a month of healthy dinner ideas for kids.)

What kids drink before the vaccine shot is vital, however, the pediatricians agree.

"Adequate hydration is important every day, but be especially mindful of proper hydration the day of vaccination," Butt says.

Beyond helping combat fatigue and muscle aches, two potential vaccination side effects, "going into the vaccine appointment well-hydrated lessens the chances of people having 'vagal events,' or fainting, with needle sticks—whether blood draws or vaccines of any kind," Kenamore says. "These episodes are less common in younger kids than in teenagers generally, but certainly being hydrated is always a good idea."

If your kids struggle to guzzle enough H2O, a fun water bottle like this CamelBak eddy Kids BPA Free Water Bottle (buy it: $11.91, Amazon) might help. Or try infusing their water with fresh fruit or adding a few flavored ice cubes, so it tastes more enticing. Seltzer with a little juice mixed in can also make it more fun to drink up.

As a general rule, "It's not recommended to give acetaminophen or ibuprofen prior to vaccination" to potentially prevent symptoms, Butt says. Wait and see if it's necessary after the vaccine.

After the Shot

"There aren't any specific foods that will make the vaccine work better, however, it might be nice to feed kids foods that they find comforting if they aren't feeling well. In general, we know that immune systems stay strong when kids eat a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables," Freeman says.

Anti-inflammatory foods may help ease some of the post-vaccination symptoms, according to Butt. So, lean into "soups (yes, like chicken soup) and foods rich in antioxidants (like green vegetables) and foods prepared with turmeric, which is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties," she suggests.

Consider these kid-friendly, comforting, anti-inflammatory breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas to share after your kids' vaccine shot:

For Breakfast

For Lunch

For Dinner

For Snacks

In terms of medication, it's usually A-OK to give your child Tylenol or ibuprofen post-vaccination "to treat any fever, headache, pain or other symptoms, provided that your child has no medical conditions for which these medications would be contraindicated," Butt says. "It's always best to check with your child's pediatrician so you know how much is safe to give your child. Weight- or age-based dosing is important."

The Bottom Line

Although COVID-19 most often causes mild infection in young children, it was the eighth most common cause of death in children 5 to 11 years of age in this previous year.

"The COVID vaccine is safe and effective in children," Freeman says. "Vaccination is our best tool to keep kids safe from COVID-19, and vaccinating kids will help drive down case numbers in the community."

The Pfizer vaccine is over 90% effective against symptomatic disease in this age group, Butt adds. "Contact your pediatrician to find out where to obtain the vaccine for your child," she says. And keep these food and drink ideas in mind to help your little one bounce back in next to no time.

The situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change quickly; it's possible that information or data has changed since publication. While EatingWell is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC, WHO and their local public health department as resources.

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