Plant-Based Foods When You’re Sick & Recipe for Vegan “Gelatin”

Sometimes, when you’re sick, all you want is a tray of healing foods in bed.

I was not prepared at all the first time I got sick after transitioning to plant-based eating. It never dawned on me that I needed alternatives to my old standbys of chicken soup and Jello. So I was absolutely miserable and sad when it happened, and at a complete loss of what to eat.

Since then, I’ve discovered what works for us when we’re sick. Plant-based and zero waste eating does not mean you lose those comforting, healing foods. Here’s what we have when we’re suffering from the sniffles, a sore throat, or that bug that’s going around.

Broths and Soup

I was single when first going plant-based, so there wasn’t anyone to make me food when I got sick. Vegan canned soups were pretty rare, other than plain old vegetable broth, so I learned to make some things to have on hand that I could quickly and simply make when I felt icky. I still keep these things on hand—they’re fast and comforting.

Veggie Stock Powder

Jar of Instant Vegan Stock Powder

I love this Vegan Stock Powder recipe from Somer McCowan. I keep it in our pantry at all times for a fast broth that you can sip on or cook noodles in for a quick noodle soup (Alan’s favorite). The key to its awesome flavor is dried shiitake mushrooms! It’s also great when you need vegetable stock in an instant.

Copy Cat Better than Bouillon

Jars of Stock Concentrate

While I liked the convenience of Better than Bouillon, it’s difficult to consistently find the vegan one and it has added oil and hydrolyzed soy protein, neither of which I want to eat. Plus, it’s hella expensive! But I found a Vegetable Stock Concentrate recipe on Joe Cross’s website that I adore! It’s all veggies (and salt) and is really good! Just mix it up in a high-speed blender and keep in your refrigerator. I also freeze some in containers—the high salt content makes it still scoopable even though it’s frozen.

Veggie Scrap Stock

I make a ton of stock from veggie scraps and keep it in my freezer at all times. You can find the directions here. Note, while the post is about canning the stock, you can find the directions partway through the post for making it in your Instant Pot and then freezing.

Chickpea or Tofu Noodle Soup

Tofu “Chicken” Soup with Stars

Chicken soup had always been my go to. Mom would make it for us when we were sick or, in a pinch, we always had cans of Campbell’s Chicken with Stars concentrated canned soup. I love Amy Katz’s Chickpea Noodle Soup, though I often crumble firm tofu into it instead of the chickpeas and add some nutritional yeast, sage, ¼ tsp. turmeric, and stellate (star) pasta. It freezes wonderfully and the tofu gets a chewier texture that way. We make big batches and freeze for fast soup when we’re sick.

Other Soups for your Freezer

Here are other soups we keep in our freezer:

Rouxbe’s Vegetarian Pho Stock to make Pho with Greens and Mushrooms

Red Curry Pumpkin Soup

Hydration and Other Sippers

Gatorade is out for us due to the artificial colors, flavors, chemicals, and plastic bottle. So I make Switchel. It’s an old-fashioned drink made from ginger, lemons, and molasses, with natural electrolytes. Perfect for recovering from a cold!

Switchel’s good for a summer’s day or when you’re sick.

Other Beverage Options

My Turmeric Chai is full of ginger, turmeric, and spices full of antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories. It’s also very warming and comforting—exactly what you need with a cold!

Probably not recommended by Dr. Spock, but my dad used to give us a shot of his homemade Kahlua when we were coughing a lot. It helped, most likely because it knocked us out and helped us stop coughing so we could sleep. I think he gave it to us so HE could sleep! I don’t recommend giving it to kids, but if you’re of legal drinking age, it helps with a cough!

Juices and smoothies are wonderful when you’re sick, especially if you have a sore throat. Here are several of my favorite juice recipes and I love this Pineapple-Citrus Green Smoothie from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Soft Foods

Mashed Potatoes

Did you know you can freeze mashed potatoes? It’s true! I freeze leftover mash in little containers so we can have comfort food in minutes. Just pop it into the microwave to heat up, stir, and eat! You can also freeze scoops of mash potatoes on silicone baking sheets or parchment and then store the individually frozen scoops in containers.


Applesauce is super easy to make and is a great food when you’re sick. You can freeze it or can it. Here’s my post on making applesauce.

Vegan “Gelatin”

Purple Apple (left) and Apple-Raspberry (right) Vegan “Gelatin” cups.

I featured a vegan “gelatin” salad in my VeganMoFo 2019, and it’s delicious, but when you’re sick, you just want the jiggly, fruity gel, not all the extra stuff in a gel salad. Gelatin is not plant-based or vegan, made from animal bones, hooves, and hides—ooh, gross, right? But, you can make a vegan, plant-based version out of agar agar, which is derived from red algae.

You can find agar agar in powdered or flake form in Asian markets, sometimes called Japanese kanten or China grass. You can also purchase on Amazon if you haven’t got any near you. Just make sure what you pick up doesn’t have any added sugar in the powder. Like gelatin, agar agar must come to a boil in order to activate. You can use any liquid, including fruit juice, tea, water, plant-based milks, etc., although high acid liquids may interfere with the gel setting and require more agar agar to gel. Pineapples, mango, peaches, and papayas can also interfere with agar agar setting up due to some enzymes, but you can keep this from happening if you cook those fruits first.

Clockwise from top left: Agar agar powder; Adding the powder to apple-raspberry juice; Boiling for two minutes; Pouring into containers.

Pick your favorite juice and turn it into fabulous vegan “gelatin.” And the beauty of it is, it only takes 30 minutes to set up! The recipe is below.

I hope this helps people not to struggle through being sick when transitioning to plant-based. You don’t have to lose your healing comfort foods! Think ahead and get yourself prepared so you don’t have to fuss or think about it while you’re suffering from a cold.

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5 from 5 votes

Vegan "Gelatin"

At last, cruelty-free "gelatin," full of fruity goodness without artificial colors or flavors! And it sets up FAST!
Course Dessert, Snack, Zero Waste
Cuisine Gluten-Free, Kids, Nut-Free, Soy-Free
Keyword Agar Agar, sea vegetables
Servings 8
Author Cindy Thompson, MS, NBC-HWC | Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching



  • Bring fruit juice to a simmer.
  • Add agar agar powder or flakes. Stir and continue to simmer for 2 minutes. If using flakes, you may need to simmer for a bit longer to ensure the flakes have completely dissolved.
  • Pour into a shallow bowl or dish and refrigerate 30 minutes.


Use any juice you'd like, although agar agar doesn't set well with high acids, like lemon juice.
To make the purple "gelatin," steep 2 tablespoons of dried butterfly pea flowers in 4 cups of apple juice until the desired color is achieved. Strain juice and discard flowers before bringing to a simmer and adding agar agar.


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  1. Barbara on February 6, 2022 at 7:47 am

    Thanks Cindy. I am feeling better and plan to try some of your recipes. I am especially fond of green drinks.

    • Cindy Thompson, Trimazing! Health & Lifestyle Coaching on February 6, 2022 at 8:29 am

      Wonderful, I’m so glad you’re feeling better.

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