Adulting 101: Prepare for Sick Days With a Sick Day Pantry

Everyone needs a sick day pantry to prepare themselves for the inevitable: the day you feel under the weather. 

Most people never think about preparing for their sick days at home when they plan for life’s little emergencies.  They usually wait until they are sick to buy the things they need. They never prepare for the inevitable…the day they are sick.  So why wait until you are sick to get what you need when you can just prepare your home for the sick day that is eventually going to come? You should have your own sick day pantry. 

Sick Day Pantry

Just like you need to have your own food pantry for the basics you’ll need when you cook, you should also start a sick day pantry for the days you are not feeling well. You don’t have to have an entire closet filled with the necessities. You just need to make sure to have these items stocked in your home.

Where to begin?  Start with a list. This is a list you can refer to as you slowly put together your pantry. You don’t have to accumulate everything in one shopping trip. Just keep your list handy and pick up the items you need every time you shop. Soon, you’ll have your own complete sick day pantry.

Each and every person is different when it comes to what they need to comfort themselves when they’re under the weather.  Make sure all of your go to sick remedies are listed as a priority on your list to purchase first, before adding any of the other items to your pantry. For any prescriptions you need regularly, make sure to always have them at the ready.

SOUPS: Whether you prefer Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, broth, or your own batch, make sure your cupboard or freezer always has those sick day soups on hand.  If you make your own, make sure to freeze a container of soup (and label it) each time you make a large pot of soup.  Or if you prefer the soup from your favorite restaurant, order an extra one to add to your freezer.  That way, you can have a variety of soups to choose from on sick days.  Remember, you are building up your stock when you are healthy.  You can still use these items when you are healthy, just remember to make it a habit to continuously restock every time you shop, order out, or cook. 

COLD/FLU MEDICINE:  Everyone has their own go to medicine.  From NyQuil to Halls Cough Drops, make sure you always have it available.  Keep NyQuil and cough syrups on the shelf and check their expiration dates.  Do not refrigerate.  For cough drops, the best ones that work instantly are the Ricola Lemon Mint drops.  They’re also great to carry in your bag for those rare times you have a coughing fit when the entire room is quiet (think theaters, meetings, transit, etc.). We all know, that’s when coughing fits love to make their appearance.

PAIN MEDICATION:  Make sure to keep a variety of pain medication in your arsenal, because not all medicine is one size fits all.  From acetaminophen (Tylenol) to ibuprofen (Advil) to whatever works specifically for you, make sure to have a variety of pain medication on hand at all times.  This includes pain relief medication like Midol for those who use it.

ALLERGY:  Always have allergy medication.  As we grow older, our bodies change.  One minute we can eat a certain food, the next minute we are suddenly allergic to it.  Always keep on hand the allergy medication that works for you.  Benadryl may work for you, but Claritin and Allegra may not, and vice versa.  Buy what works for you and your household.  You may also have a need to keep an epi-pen in your arsenal.  If this is you, make sure you have enough on hand in your home and on your person.  [ALLERGY MED HINT: Having coffee with an antihistamine helps to stave off the lethargic reaction.]

FIRST AID KIT:  A First Aid Kit is a must.  It will have everything you can possibly need in case of a tiny emergency.  If your kit does not include Neosporin, make sure to add it. [NOTE: Band-aids do not last forever. If you have 20 year old band-aids, it may be time to replace them.]

EYES: Do not wait until you are on your very last pair of contact lenses to see the eye doctor. I had to use one pair of contact lenses throughout the entire pandemic before I could restock. Not to mention, my glasses broke at the start of the pandemic. Lesson learned. Always have your yearly supply of contacts filled, along with contact solution and eye drops. Don’t have just one pair of glasses, have a backup pair, just in case something crazy happens like the world shuts down.

MEDICATED RUB:  There are some people who grew up with the comfort of having Vicks VapoRub massaged into their chest or back when they did not feel well.  Believe it or not, it’s not just for what ails you.  It helps take the itchiness out of bug bites.  Just apply it to the bug bite on your skin.  For mosquito bites, in some cases, you may find the bite disappears the next morning. If a bug bite remains 3 days or more and it’s still swollen, see your doctor. Some bugs can carry infections that require antibiotics. For medicated rubs, the generic brands work just as well as the name brand. Also, tiger balm has it’s own magical properties. You can find tiger balm in Asian stores.

ELECTROLYTES:  Gatorade, Propel, Pedialyte, electrolyte water, etc. should be added to your pantry.  You may not think you’ll need this, but you do.  It helps keep you hydrated, especially if you are vomiting or have diarrhea.  Even if you’re a little under the weather, one glass a day (while you are sick) will help you mend faster.  If you prefer all natural versions, try Ultima Replenisher electrolyte mixes.  They come in a variety of flavors.  Pedialyte also comes in liquid, powder, and popsicle form.  If you have pets, electrolyte water can help them when they are sick.  Some cats and dogs can have Pedialyte but check with your veterinarian before administering it to them. [NOTE: It is a good idea to have a myriad of options at home. You can easily take powder packs on the go, or keep them at the office. For those with pets, make sure to have electrolyte water and a bottle of Pedialyte. While vets recommend the no flavor Pedialyte, Matthew Lucifer (the Maine Coon – pictured) will only drink the flavor version. He refuses to drink electrolyte water. When your animals get picky, make sure you have options to see what will work.]

HONEY:  Honey is excellent for treating colds, sore throats, the flu, and seasonal allergies.  For people with seasonal allergies, you should look to purchasing local honey.  Local honey comes from the bees in your area, so that means any pollen that could be affecting your allergies are being harvested by local bees.  Many stores carry local honey.  Just read the packaging to make sure it’s from someplace near you. For instance, if you are in California, you shouldn’t buy local honey made in New Jersey. That won’t help you. Buy only local honey from your neck of the woods. 

Also popular for what ails you is Manuka Honey. This type of honey has a long list of benefits from supporting wound-healing and antibiotic-resistant infections to maximizing gut health. 

Note that not all honey is made equal.  There are a lot of counterfeit honey options out on the market (think molasses or brown sugar and water).  Make sure you do your research before you buy honey.  Fake honey won’t help you.  For those with pets who suffer from seasonal allergies, giving your pet a tiny bit of local honey every now and again [one to three times a year] will also help them during allergy season. 

LEMONS:  Lemons are an excellent source of Vitamin C and flavanoids.  A hot cup of water with fresh juice from a lemon and honey can help soothe a sore throat or a cold quickly.  If you add lemons to your diet (either as a juice or using the peel in recipes), it serves as an antioxidant that helps prevent diseases and boosts your overall health’s wellbeing.

NATURAL REMEDIES:  There are many tested, but true, remedies out there across the globe.  If you have a go to natural remedy, make sure you always have those ingredients in your pantry/refrigerator. 

One ingredient that is a MUST to keep in your pantry is cornstarch.  It speeds up the clotting process.  It is safe to use on cats and dogs when they are bleeding.  This includes bleeding around their mouth.

TISSUES:  You can easily buy a set of six boxes of tissues for a few dollars.  You will thank yourself later that you have a back stock of tissues you can go through and you don’t have to use toilet paper, paper towels, or your sleeve when you have a runny nose.

VITAMINS: B12, C, D3, Elderberry, etc. are vitamins you should take regularly. But when you start to feel off, B12, C, D3 and Elderberry can all do absolute wonders to help you fight off an illness. Coupled with electrolyte water, soup, and rest, you’re sure to kick that sick feeling quickly.

COMFORT FOOD: Sometimes the only thing you want when you have the flu is orange juice and Oreo cookies (or maybe that’s just me). Whatever your comfort food craving is, there may be a chance you don’t want to keep these items stocked. Consider snack packs and as they start to reach their expiration either donate them to your office coworkers, give to the homeless, etc. After they expire, just throw them out (do not donate). For juices, you can freeze them as ice cubes and use them to liven up a drink or to have as popsicles.

Or you can do like I do with these two comforts. The second you feel off, buy them for that just in case this is the real deal. That way, you have them when you need them. If it’s not an illness, woo hoo! Oreos, mimosas and Netflix are in your future.

Other Items to Stock in Case of Emergency

Besides just the basics of cotton balls and cotton swabs, make sure to add these items to your medicine cabinet.

FOOT CARE:  Corn removers, blister bandages, and moleskin tape (to prevent friction and blisters, as well as add extra cushioning for calluses and corns).  Depending on what ails your feet, you may need additional items to help relieve your feet from pain.  Everyone gets blisters every now and again, so make sure you have those bandages or moleskin tape.

HEATING PADS/COLD PACKS:  If you use these, make sure to have them in your Sick Day Pantry.

HUMIDIFIER/AIR PURIFIERS:  Having both are very important during sick days, winter months, and allergy season.  Vornado makes excellent humidifiers, just make sure to add extra filters to your sick day pantry.  The filters need to be replaced every 6 months.  Or if you are a heavy user, you may need to replace it every few weeks.  You’ll know by looking at the filters.  The blacker they are, the sooner you need to replace them.  For air purifiers, there are new models every year that outdo the next.  Research the year’s best air purifier and go with whichever one suits your needs and budget.

MENSTRUAL CARE:  Sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups/underwear, always make sure to have a back stock ready for yourself and for guests. Also, make sure to have your choice pain meds, chocolate, and heating pad at the ready. [NOTE: Make sure to only buy organic. There are many menstrual care products that cause more problems than they do good. For instance, many tampons and pads on the market are designed to make you bleed more. Some products have been linked to infertility, cancers and miscarriages. There are some ‘organic’ brands that are not really organic. Go with brands like Seventh Generation and other similar companies. Online companies like Thrive Market and Grove Collaborative (both require memberships) help take the guesswork out of it for you and only sell items that are good for you and the Earth.]

ETC.: Grow aloe vera in your home. It’s a cactus, so it’s easy to maintain. It’s great for skin application from sunburns to using as an antiseptic on cuts. [Note: there are studies that do not recommend ingesting aloe vera long term. It’s excellent as a topical application, and should be used mainly for your skin. While there are benefits to ingesting aloe vera, there are many medical studies that do not recommend ingesting it long term.] While you can buy a bottle of aloe vera, having a living plant in your home and snipping only the little bit you need is far more eco-friendlier and better for the environment. You don’t have to worry about the plastic bottle or the product expiring. You can also freeze aloe vera leaves to prep for sunburns.

If you have a green thumb, try growing different herbs like mint, basil, lavender, marigolds (fights fever and treats acne), chamomile and others you might like to use in a tea or in your recipes. Even grow some cat grass or lemongrass for your cats to help them when they’re not feeling well. Make sure to always check if the plants are safe for your animals before growing plants indoors.

How to Stock Up

You do not have to stock up on everything all at once. Keep a list handy of items you need to add to your pantry and pick up an item each time you shop, especially when you see a good deal.  Check sales in your area.  Clip coupons.  Use your saver cards.  Buy generic. Also, don’t be afraid to buy some of these items at a Family Dollar or Dollar Tree.

Also, do not overstock items that can expire, especially if you do not foresee yourself using those items before the expiration date. Stock up on items that you will use regularly like cotton balls, cotton swabs, tissues, menstrual care items, and food you will eat whether you are sick or not. Even Gatorade and Propel expires, so make sure to not overstock on those items, unless you see yourself as using them before they expire.

Sometimes that deal of 2 bottles of NyQuil calls to you, but think before you spring for 2 bottles. If you are shopping for one, you will probably only use 1 bottle a year. That second bottle could expire before you even open it. Start shopping for the next bottle AFTER you open up a bottle and start using it.

If your company adds funds (free money) to an FSA/HSA card for you, or if you add funds to a card yourself, you can use the card to pay for many of these items to build up your sick day pantry. The CARES Act of 2020 expanded FSA/HSA rules to allow use of FSA/HSA funds on items such as menstrual care products. You will also find that these funds can be used towards OTC drugs, PPE, foot care, acne products, acupressure products, and so much more.