“Invalid Food”


Before vaccines, my siblings and I went through all the childhood illnesses as well as frequent bouts of ear aches, sore throats and stomach bugs. When we went to bed, our appetites took a nose dive and food didn’t appeal. My mother had two foods for invalids, toast and orange juice. She cut the toast into strips such as those above and made them into a little log cabin. She diluted the orange juice to a very pale version of itself and served it in a glass with a glass straw. When we saw the glass straw, we acknowledged that we were in fact sick.

Illnesses merited a special green metal tray to deliver food to the invalid. We were expected to eat all the toast and sip a glass of the pale juice before we were allowed to get out of bed and rejoin the family table. I still remember the mixed feelings of being treated as special but feeling horrible at the same time. I preferred regular meals.

My mother had some mysterious illness in childhood which she never really explained to us. All that she told us was that for a long time she had to drink beef juice. Apparently this was derived from meat somehow by the family cook. It sounded awful, and we were glad we didn’t have to drink it. When she was pregnant she had to eat calf’s liver per her doctor’s orders. Fortunately, she didn’t share it with us. However the fact that she didn’t share it made it seem very adult and very desirable, and I acquired a taste for it when I grew up.

As a parent I relied on steamed white rice when a child was ill. I still turn to it for myself when I am ailing. I never acquired a glass straw. Now, I hear, they may finally be coming back in fashion as a substitute for plastic ones. Everything old is new again!


21 thoughts on ““Invalid Food”

  1. I don’t remember what we were given when sick when I was growing up. I do remember staying home from school and getting to watch TV. Today it’s chicken noodle soup or poached eggs on toast. Both go down nice and easy.


  2. This reminded me of bed-bound days with chickenpox, and other fevers as a child. I would be given soup, or soft-boiled eggs with toast ‘soldiers’, (like the photo) to dip into the yolks. Sometimes, my mum would wrap a scarf around one of my arms, like a sling, and tell me I was a ‘wounded soldier’. The memories of the war were still fresh, of course.
    But what I didn’t like was to have to tolerate the thick menthol vapour rub, applied copiously to my chest, then trapped under a tight vest. She told me it would help with my breathing and congestion, but the smell was suffocating.
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Whatever happened to soft boiled eggs anyway. Growing up they were common on the weekend. We had a couple of sets of eggcups and knew how to eat eggs either in the top or the bottom of the cup. Do they still eat them in England? I hated Vicks also.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Back when we were kids, we always had Skyflakes crackers and orange juice when we got sick. It was somewhat similar to what your mom served you.


  4. I miss being able to eat saltines when I don’t feel well. As a kid we got dry toast and flat ginger ale. What stinks now is that when I am sick I have to make my own comfort food. It is nicer when someone brings it to you!


  5. How interesting, Elizabeth. These reminded me of a chapter of My Naughty Little Sister I read once about when she was ill. We were put to bed when we were ill. I remember having special steamed meals when I had Hepatitis A.


  6. This post made me smile. I remember coming home early from school on a few occasions. My mom would make me a bed on the couch and the menu was always the same: tomato soup, crackers, banana, and 7-up with the bubbles stirred out.


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