caring for a large family when unwell

Finally, after an exhausting couple of weeks recovering from covid, I'm on the mend. Thankfully the rest of the family recovered well and more quickly than me. Covid itself wasn't too bad in regards to flu symptoms but I was physically very weak, dizzy and exhausted. Even the most minor jobs seemed like monumental mountains to climb. I'm still not 100% energy-wise and tire quickly, but I feel much better generally. I have learnt over the years that when sick I need to listen to my body and let everything possible go, including feelings of guilt, until I'm fully better. 

I come from a long line of people who soldier on when you're unwell, never taking a sick day unless you're dying and even then ensuring you've not dropped a ball. Well, I tried that a few years back when I had pericarditis and I ended up with a chronically weak and inflamed heart for two years, which served no one. Even now I get sicker than I used to, and it takes me longer to recover. These days, when I'm sick I literally take to bed for as long as necessary. I get up and do tasks as I feel I can for short bursts and I take short gentle walks on the farm but otherwise, I doze, read and basically let the kids have a free-for-all  of screen time until I'm better. Guilt-free. On days when cooking is too much, frozen food in boxes is embraced.

In this post, I thought I would share some tips on streamlining how we survive as a big family when unwell. When you're a parent and sick the key is to do things in small pockets of time. You might only be able to manage 5-10 minutes of gentle work before needing to rest. The important thing is to listen to your body the best you can and delegate tasks to older children and partners where possible. 

Quick and easy meals when unwell 

If you are sick and have little energy cooking can seem like an overwhelming task. Especially if you have a family to feed. I get it. But families need feeding and if like us you don't have a village or extended family near to help then it often falls to mothers to keep the wheels turning. 

The first meal is a simple, nourishing meal that can feed the masses with little effort and mess.

Baked chicken and veggies
Line a tray with baking paper and dice potatoes and carrots and any other veggies you can rustle up from your crisper. If you only have potato don't stress, potato is incredibly nutrient dense and full of vitamins and minerals as well as having a soothing effect on tummies. Drizzle olive oil and season the veggies. I use a herbed salt called Herbamare. If you can get away with not peeling veggies all the better. 

Next, lay out some alfoil and pop a couple of chicken breasts on it. Drizzle with a little olive oil or lemon juice, and throw some salt/pepper/garlic from a jar at them. If you have enough energy to gather some herbs from the garden great, if not a little paprika sprinkled on works or just keep it super simple. Scrunch the alfoil so it makes a pouch for the chicken to steam in and whack it in the oven. 

Pop the oven on to about 200C and dinner should be ready in roughly an hour with no more assistance from you, aside from slicing the chicken and serving it out. Leftovers will keep well in the fridge.  

Ham and cheese toasties on wholemeal bread
If your kids will eat tomatoes on their toasties great! Mine won't. 

Fruit and yoghurt drizzled with honey 
Full of vitamin C, good bacteria for gut health, and nice on sore throats. Raw honey is an added bonus. 

Scrambled eggs on toast
If you can grate some cheese into the eggs it makes it a little more nourishing as well as spreading some avocado on the toast. But eggs are an incredibly dense nutrient source by themselves if that's all you can manage. Remember the aim is to feed your family the best you can with zero guilt. No Michelin stars are required! 

Smooth vegetable soup 
Pumpkin or cauliflower and potato soup are great bases for a thick smooth soup. I roughly chop ingredients, add bacon/ham if I have some and throw it all in a big pot at the same time and cover it with water/chicken stock. Then I season as necessary and allow to simmer for 30mins-1hr. Once the veggies are soft, blitz the lot with a stick blender until smooth. I don't faff about with browning bacon or stages of cooking when unwell. Soups are incredibly forgiving. Grated cheese on top may help tempt little people to eat. 

Chicken soup
There are so many varieties of chicken soup you can make. If you are super unwell plain chicken broth is wonderful. If you can throw in some noodles it becomes more filling. If you have a bit more energy you might like to make a pot of chicken and veggie soup. If you can manage to include ginger, turmeric and throw copious amounts of garlic in it all the better. Quirky cooking has a great recipe I love HERE if you can manage it. Though you might want to leave out chilli for kids. I add siracha sauce to my own bowl to get a nose-clearing chilli hit. You don't need a Thermomix. A big pot, kitchen knife and chopping board is perfectly adequate. 

To simplify you might like to use a jar of grated ginger/garlic, shop-bought chicken broth and add a diced-up chicken breast or two, depending on how many you are feeding. Frozen diced veggies also work.

When I can't manage those meals and I want to offer something even simpler I turn to;
  • Baked beans on toast (even canned beans are incredibly good for you)
  • Fish fingers and frozen chips (or slice some potato/sweet potato into chips and bake with olive oil and herb salt if you can manage that)
  • Plain pasta with butter and herb salt
  • Cerial/porridge. Add brown sugar and cinnamon to porridge, cinnamon is extremely good for soothing upset tummies. 
  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Crackers
  • Decent real fruit juice (from the fridge section without preservatives preferably)  
  • Rice noodles with chicken broth 

Other things to consider

Keeping a couple of litres of chicken broth in the freezer is great for times of sickness to add into simple soups or serve plain with noodles for chicken noodle soup as is having a few frozen 'just in case meals' on hand that you have prepared earlier. But if you are caught out without these things on hand, the meal suggestions above require little effort, and minimal time being physically upright cooking whilst creating very few dirty dishes. 

Keeping a jar of minced garlic/ginger, long-life milk and chicken broth in my pantry are mealtime saviours when the proverbial hits the fan. Because it will always hit the fan when you are least prepared for it. And that's ok - life happens. 

If you're unwell and your pantry is empty, remember to utilize click-and-collect grocery services and home delivery. These are a godsend when unwell. The big supermarket websites are very easy to register for and navigate and are very secure. 

Focus on basic cleaning tasks only

No matter what is going on with us, there are some things that need to happen even when we are unwell. Children need to be fed, clean and safe, animals need to be fed and their enclosures/litter trays clean. Dishes need to be done so you don't invite sickness on top of sickness and dirty/infected linen needs to be hot washed.  

If kids are on the mend they can begin to look after their own space again by stripping their beds and re-making them, hanging up clean washing, bringing in dry washing and feeding pets. Though maybe not all on the same day! Give them a small job or two and let them tackle it at their own pace throughout the day. For instance, they might be able to strip their bed in the morning and make it in the afternoon. That little bit of help can be huge when you are sick yourself and trying to keep a household cared for and functioning.  

Minimising the workload when sick is the key to survival. Kids can drink from drink bottles which are washed in hot soapy water daily rather than cups, and keep snacks on hand that they can help themselves to. Little packets of popcorn are a great snack choice if you don't have the energy to make it yourself. As are small tubs of yoghurt. Yes, single-use plastic is bad. But when everyone is sick it's more important than ever to maintain a certain level of hygiene. If choosing a few pre-packaged items helps you to keep a clean and hygienic kitchen by minimising washing up, then it's a worthy sacrifice for a few days. No one needs food poisoning on top of illness.  

If like me you are trying to live simply and minimise your footprint on the earth it can feel hard to embrace convenience items. But when you're unwell, this is exactly the time to lower our standards. The reality is that 70-80% of pollution and waste comes from just a few huge worldwide companies and industries. Big corporations have tried to shift the responsibility and guilt onto the consumer to deflect the blame, which leaves us bending over backwards to do the right things for the environment while they continue merrily polluting on a massive scale and making record profits in the process. If you can afford to use the dryer, run the dishwasher a little more or buy some convenience foods when unwell, this is the time to do it. 

If you are well enough to continue to avoid single-use plastics - wonderful! But if you need to lean on convenience for a week or two to survive - don't beat yourself up. Unnecessary self-imposed guilt won't help you heal faster. By doing what you can to rest and make a full recovery, you will ensure you get back on your feet and are able to live your green life sooner while helping others work out how to do the same. 

If children are unwell, giving them a wipe with a warm flannel and a clean change of PJs is perfectly fine if that's all they and you can manage. Sometimes a nice warm shower or bubble bath can be wonderful for helping ease aches and pains though, as well as being a helpful way to pass time and for kids to have a nice bubbly splash. 

Convenience items I like to have on hand during times of illness

  • Tissues
  • Paper towel
  • Pre-packaged chicken broth (If I don't have any in the freezer)
  • Little packets of popcorn
  • Individual yoghurts
  • Crackers
  • Eco bathroom spray, either an orange cleaner or an Earth Choice one (usually I use bicarb/eucalyptus and vinegar but when sick I revert to a stronger bought version)
  • Paracetamol and Nurofen for adults and children
  • Icy poles

Embrace technology like dishwashers, dryers and slow cookers if you have them. Dirty/infected washing needs to be dealt with quickly. When I'm really sick I hang everything inside and point a fan on it no matter the weather. When I had a dryer I felt no guilt using that when I was sick, though I generally avoided using it at other times. Clean washing needn't be folded or put away when sick if you can't manage it, it will be there when you are well. As long as dirty/infected washing isn't allowed to fester. Ordinary washing can often wait, just focus on the bare essentials.  

I usually use old cotton rags for cleaning, but when everyone is sick or there is gastro in the house it's handy to have a stronger eco-spray and paper towel on hand. I like to keep the loo, sink and high-traffic areas like the kitchen table wiped over. I might give the shower a quick spray, and let it sit for 5 minutes before rinsing it off. It literally only takes a couple of minutes and can help to break the cycle of illness. Paper towels can be composted rather than having damp, dirty cleaning rags sitting forgotten in a bucket to go mouldy. (This might not be an issue for you - if not great!)

Remember to go gently

When you are a homemaker we often want our homes to be lovely places for our families. We feel it is our job to feed everyone well and care for them. When I was a young mother I hated things being dirty or the feeling that the chores were getting away from me. I would feel anxious and become frustrated at myself and the situation we were in. I would push myself to do things when I should have rested - sick and exhausted people do not do tasks efficiently! 

Over the years I have learned to float rather than fight my way through times of difficulty. It is a skill I wish I had grasped earlier. Sickness and difficult times will come and go, babies teeth will come in, and children will eventually learn how to sleep through the night. The house will be messy at times and then it will be tidy, fresh and clean at other times. Seasons, stages, and levels of health all dictate how much we are able to do and when. There are no prizes for working so hard you end up chronically unwell and burnt out. Listen to your body, cuddle your babies, and try to focus on the essentials of keeping your home healthy. The rest can wait. Sometimes it feels like you are treading water in a muddy swamp and everything is hard. Breathe, and work in short, gentle 5-10 minute blocks. If you feel well enough, do try to get some fresh air and time in nature to reset. 

And remember, self-imposed guilt doesn't serve you, it will only drain your precious energy making everything seem harder. Go gently, and give yourself and others in your home grace. The hard season will soon pass and the time will come again when you have the energy and motivation to catch up and set things right.

Much love,


  1. Another excellent article Emma. You're a natural writer.
    Quite off-topic, but I have to admit to having kitchen table envy! I love the drawer at the end of your kitchen table - practical and quintessentially homestead :-)

    1. Thanks Phil, that's so kind and encouraging of you. I love my kitchen table too. Grants father restored it years ago as it was in a property they bought, painted with lino tiles on the top. It has gone through floods, travelled 2000kms strapped to the top of the Landcruiser and been rescued from bushfire. I love it dearly. The draw is our junk draw. Ha!

  2. Emma that is a post that we can all relate to.Not posting more because I can never have my post accepted but when I do……. Thank you so much

    1. Oh your post has gotten through this time! Hopefully what ever the glitch was is now fixed. I'm glad you could relate. xx

  3. Very good tips! I hope you are well 100% soon! You'll surely appreciate good health even more after all of this. When my kids were little, I'd lay down if sick, and then gather up the energy to drag myself off the sofa and do a little here and there. Each winter I make a batch of homemade chicken soup from a whole chicken and freeze for any winter illnesses. Andrea

    1. Thanks Andrea! Chicken soup is a staple in our home too, s much goodness in it and gentle on sore tummies. xx

  4. Great article! Wish I had this advice when I was younger and surrounded by children. But it’s still applicable now in my older years as the body ages and there are days when the joints ache and the energy levels sink. Every thing takes longer to do so it becomes a lesson in what to let go and what is important. But the short bursts of work interspersed with rest is something I am going to embrace!

    1. Im glad you found it helpful, I think when you are used to being on the go, it is hard to wind back a bit. Short bursts of work between rest is such a helpful strategy for me too. xx

  5. Another thoughtful post, Emma/. Rest as much as you can with Covid, as long Covid is awful.

  6. Oh wow, sorry to hear about your sickness. Great tips though and glad you're on the mend again. One thing I've learned recently is making pikelets in big batches, then freezing with baking sheets between layers. So simple to get out for the kids to make their own toppings. Ready made convenience for mum too. 😁

    1. A great idea Chris! little things like that are so good for children.

  7. Emma I am glad that you are finally starting to feel more like your self. I nursed my parents through the worst days of their Covid experience and came home and self isolated in the caravan over Christmas. I was lucky to have Bluey cooking me up some beautiful meals that I could barely eat. I am still not 100%. The Dr has told me that most people need between 3-6 months to get over a bad case of Covid.
    I loved the advise that you have passed on in your blog post. I hate tissues and use hankies. I also have a stash of flannelette squares I cut out with crimping shears. These are cut from an old flannelette sheet and are super soft. If the illness is a nasty one the flannelette hankies go in the bin. Otherwise they go in a bucket of laundry soak and are washed old fashioned style by boiling up in a pot on the stove. After washing in boiling water the flannel hankies are dried in the sun.
    I hope the dregs of tiredness leave you alone and you find your energy levels improving.

  8. Thanks Jane, great tip about the flannel hankies! I hope you get back to 100% soon too. xx


Thankyou for taking the time to leave a comment, your comments and sharing of your own lives with me means alot and I'll always endeavour to reply.

If you have enjoyed your time visiting us at Barradale Farm, please consider sharing this blog on your various social media platforms. It's free, only takes a second and is essential in helping keep blogs like mine going.

The big wide web relies on reader interaction to help the mysterious algorithm to recommend my blog to those also looking to simplify their lives.

Blessings to you and yours. xx

Powered by Blogger.