Food for Queasy Kids

Cruising with kids can be a challenge when sea sickness takes hold, but some simple foods can help.

August 1, 2016
Happy kids aren’t queasy! Mike Litzow

Go back in time with me for a few paragraphs. The year is 2006. I am pregnant with Elias and reading every speck of information I can find about sailing with infants. Unfortunately there is hardly anything written on the subject, and yet I am certain others have gone before us because I have read articles by the Martins and the Poncets. But their stories are about travel and adventure and they don’t address the daily grind of sailing with babies. But this was exactly what I was looking for: I wanted to know how to wash cloth diapers at sea and I needed an answer to the question that everyone seemed to be asking us, “But what if your baby gets sea sick?”.

And then I found a small paragraph in the sidelines of an old sailing magazine in which a very salty mother said that children younger than age 2 don’t get seasick. At least that is my memory – very possible that I am a bit fuzzy on it, as I was in my third trimester. So, right or not, I held on to that ‘fact’ during the nights that worry kept me awake. Again and again, I returned to the idea that babies under age 2 cannot and do not get seasick. I loved that idea – it fit with our life plan to sell the house, quit the jobs, and start sailing. And Elias, bless him, lived up to that ideal in every storm and rough weather passage all the way from Alaska to Australia – turning two in Tonga and still not being sea sick. He earned the name, ‘Little Salty’, and to this day he has stronger sea legs than any of the Galactic crew. Lucky boy.

Eric. Well, Eric kind of broke the mold. If Elias had reacted to sailing the way Eric did, then I am fairly certain we’d have stopped sailing. Eric vomited every time the wind was forward of the beam, regardless of wind strength. It was a huge worry when we were sailing along the CA coast south to San Diego with our newly acquired Galactic. What would happen when we sailed to the Marqueses and Eric was too young to medicate? That passage was stressful because poor Eric vomited profusely for the first 3 days. Thankfully on day 4 he found his sea legs. But on almost every passage since then, Eric has vomited multiple times. It is common for him to say things like, “Mommy do I get to eat dinner tonight since I didn’t throw up once today?” to which I reply, “Yes, but only if you eat it in the cockpit”.

Eric’s favorite, pasta with oil and salt. Mike Litzow

So what to feed queasy kids? How to keep them hydrated?

  • Juice becomes part of our daily routine. Normally our kids just drink water or milk, but on passages they get lots of juice, homemade lemon/limeade or Milo.
  • Applesauce
  • Fruit: fresh or tinned
  • Plain pasta with oil and salt Warmed tortillas, hold the cheese.
  • Crackers: saltines / pilot bread/ plain crackers
  • Ginger: candied ginger or gingersnap cookies
  • Jello – the kind that wiggles and jiggles (not the Australian jello, which is jam or jelly)

Other families have told me they like to have rice cakes around, but ours always end up going stale before we open them. So when the French sailor who was about to begin ocean passages with his little girls asked me for advice on what food to buy, I gave him the above list. It is sadly bland and void of olives and brie cheese, but really the idea is for them to drink a lot of fluids and then eat foods that will let them keep the fluids down. If/when Eric starts to throw up, it’s a big routine to rehydrate him for the next few hours. Best avoided.

And I want to end this post in the Here and Now. Eric has become a good sailor, despite his battle with mal de mar. He’s tried everything under the moon medication-wise, and he’s always so resilient when he does get sick. After throwing up, he says “That’s all right, I don’t care, Mommy” but I know that everyone hates that feeling and I know he is just being super tough. During our most recent passage from South Georgia to Cape Town we had the kind of conditions you’d expect: we hove-to for 3 gales and there was a steady 4 m swell running all the time as background music to the wind waves and chop. And on this particular passage Eric did not get sick once! Of course, he was taking medication, but often the medicine does not work. He felt nauseous at times and so our routine was for him to sleep alongside me on the cabin sole each night, and to spend ALL day in the cockpit drawing pictures. We went through a lot of paper on that passage!


Eric recently turned 6 and his ability to think problems out is improving all the time. He has not quite reached the ‘age of reason’ but he is already talking to me about the upcoming passage. He quietly mentions that he doesn’t like passages because he doesn’t like to be sick. I can’t blame him one bit. But as morale officer, I don’t miss a chance to remind Eric that he’s doing better and better each time. I tell him that he’s already sailed our hardest passage – that steady gales and ice bergs are behind us. When I talk to Eric about the upcoming wind and swell conditions that await us, he gets excited for the tradewind sailing that is on our horizon.

We all are.

If I have missed any foods that work for another queasy kid, please let me know and I’ll make sure I buy it before we sail for St. Helena later this month!


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