Simple Steps to Get Ready Now for a Miserable Cold and Flu Season (Plus DIY Recipes!)

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I never get sick. I have a killer immune system. Usually, the cold and flu season passes me by, but this time, I wasn’t so fortunate. With no flu survival plan in place, the flu hit me hard. I was knocked off my feet for more than two weeks.

At one point, my fever was high enough that I was delirious and giving my husband crazy instructions for plugging in a heating pad as my whole body was wracked with violent shivering.

What was funny is that I knew what I was saying made no sense, I knew I was delirious, and I still kept talking crazy talk. Thank God my husband has a good sense of humor!

image: Woman of color sitting couch wrapped in blue blanket holding right hand to her forehead and left hand holding a tissue during cold and flu season

When is the cold and flu season?

Seasonal influenza (flu) viruses occur year-round; however, in the U.S., there is usually an increase in activity during the fall and winter.

When is the peak of flu season?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu cases typically peak between December and February.

Centers for Disease Control Flu Map

This CDC flu map charts weekly influenza activity across the nation. If you’re wondering if there is flu going around right now in your area, you can check the map.

Here is a download for the week ending November 5, 2022. You can see that right now, the southeast is getting hit the hardest.

image: centers for disease control flu map week ending November 5, 2022

Is it a cold or the flu?

I knew I had a case of the flu when my symptoms became very extreme very quickly. However, for some people, symptoms of the cold can be confused with those of the flu.

It’s easy to confuse symptoms of the common cold with the flu, but in general, flu symptoms are simply worse. The flu comes with a fever, severe body aches, a deep cough, violent chills, and severe fatigue — truly miserable symptoms.

A cold isn’t a whole lot of fun, either, but those symptoms are milder — runny nose, sore throat, plenty of sneezing, body aches, and mild fatigue. Once symptoms cross the line from feeling “under the weather” to “just kill me now,” you probably have the flu.

Put Together a Flu and Cold Survival Kit

Before you’re faced with a sick family and have no choice but to make a mad dash to the drugstore, you’ll want to stock up on medicine for cold and flu and a few other items to make the best of sick days.

Trust me on this.

One year, the flu completely blindsided me. I’d read the headlines declaring a near-epidemic in some parts of the country but noted that my state, Arizona, hadn’t been hit particularly hard. So when my son had a short bout with what I thought was a 24-hour stomach bug, I wasn’t worried.

Three days later, he was nearly catatonic with a fever and a deep, racking cough. My brain hadn’t been thinking “flu,” so my husband and I were running to the store for ginger ale, extra Kleenex, and a new thermometer.

In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been so complacent. Although we rarely get sick, it would have been so simple to put together a kit filled with items to help us get through the worst of any sickness. After all, if mom and dad were ever sidelined by an illness, my kids were too young to drive to the store!

My goal is to keep everything in one place so we aren’t running around trying to locate a stray thermometer or the jar of honey that’s somewhere in the pantry. I also want the kids to know where this box is located and what each item is for.

Here’s what I assembled in our box so we’re ready when the flu bug bites again.

  • Lozenges
  • Vitamin C (chewable for kids)
  • A heating pad
  • Large, unopened box of tissues
  • Small bottle each of NyQuil and DayQuil. Your choices may be different.
  • Small bottle of crystallized ginger for homemade ginger tea. You can also put a couple of crystals inside your cheek and allow them to dissolve slowly. Crystallized ginger doesn’t have as strong a bite as fresh.
  • Unopened bottle of ginger ale for nausea.
  • A small, unopened jar of honey for coughs. (Not for use with babies, though.)
  • Unopened bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Thermometer with disposable probe covers
  • Small bottle of ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen
  • Anti-diarrheal medicine — Ask your doctor or pharmacist for a recommended brand.
  • Emesis/vomit bags — Better to use than a bowl or toilet to prevent splashing. Ugh.
  • A few pairs of disposable gloves
  • Face masks to keep contagion to the minimum when tending to the sick person
  • My favorite essential oil diffuser and a few oils that are beneficial, such as eucalyptus, Raven (a Young Living blend), frankincense, and lavender (for a good night’s sleep). I even have a diffuser for my car and just LOVE it!

I thought of adding a box of saltines, but these go horrifically bad after a couple of months due to the small amount of oil in the crackers. A sealed box of pilot bread would stay fresh, though.

Also, I’ve also found that sippy cups (yes, even for older kids and adults) are helpful for always having liquids at hand while avoiding all-too-frequent spills. A case of Gatorade or Pedialyte provides fluids, along with electrolytes potassium, magnesium, and sodium. A homemade version is simple to make, too.

Recipe for DIY Rehydration Fluid

A simple DIY rehydration concoction you can easily mix up in your own kitchen is another good addition. A few months ago, I assembled forty of these packets and have tucked them into my pantry, vehicle emergency kit, and have even put a few in the glove compartment of my husband’s truck.

Here’s the basic recipe:

  • 3 T. sugar
  • 1 t. salt

Yup, that’s it. Some people add a bit of Kool-Aid to provide flavor, but it isn’t necessary. When this sugar/salt combo is mixed with a liter of clean water, you have an effective rehydration fluid that will go a long way toward helping someone recover from a bout with the stomach flu.

Set Up a Sick Room

Once a family member has been diagnosed with a case of the flu, in particular, it’s time to set up a “sick room” with all these supplies handy.

On the bedside table, have facial tissue, a spill-proof cup filled with water, Gatorade, or something similar, and a trash can to hold used tissues. A high fever will require extra blankets, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle, so have those handy as well.

Limit the amount of time well family members spend in the sick room. If there’s anything worse than a full-blown case of the flu, it’s everyone in the family sick with the flu!

If the flu includes nausea, have ready a bucket for vomit, extra towels, and disinfecting wipes to clean all the surfaces that may have been on the receiving end of any splatter. (Ugh — I know, but when you have a home with kids, this is what you deal with!)

How to Minimize Spread

You’ll certainly want to limit this cold or flu to the poor victim who is down for the count. To stop the virus from spreading, family members must wash their hands frequently. To help the kids remember, create a checklist and have them record with a sticker or a check mark every time they wash their hands during the day.

Make sure everyone knows how to sneeze properly, covering their sneeze with either a tissue or sneezing into the inside of their elbow. And, when you leave the sick room, be sure to wash your own hands with soap and water.

image: cold and flu season survival plan infographic

Three Natural Remedies for the Cold and Flu Season

In addition to over-the-counter cold and flu medicine, natural remedies can also be effective against the miserable symptoms of the flu and colds. We use a lot of essential oils in our home, with eucalyptus, lavender, and frankincense. These are all good choices for a flu patient’s sick room.

The following three recipes use natural ingredients that can be found in the healthy living section of grocery stores, in health food stores, and on Amazon. These can be made ahead of time and then stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator until needed.

Homemade Aromatic Chest Rub

  • 1 oz. coconut oil
  • 1 oz. olive oil
  • 6 drops of tea tree essential oil
  • 4 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
  • 4 drops of lavender essential oil

Warm the coconut oil until liquid. Combine all ingredients. Let sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator until solidified.

Essential Oil Vapor Rub

  • 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 3 drops thyme essential oil
  • 1/8 c. olive oil

Combine all the oils and mix well. To use, rub the oil mixture over the throat and chest, then cover up to help increase the warming effect. This is very effective when done right at bedtime as it helps relieve congestion and helps you fall asleep more easily.

Herbal Congestion Rub

This recipe takes a couple of days to make and then another few days to allow the ingredients to settle in and “marry.”

  • 1/2 c. dried lavender (antiseptic  healing, topically healing, pain relieving)
  • 1/4 c. dried mullein leaves (helps break up congestion)
  • 1/4 c. dried peppermint (cooling and provides pain relief)
  • 1/4 c. fresh grated ginger (breaks up congestion)
  • 3/4 c. coconut oil
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 3 T. beeswax pellets
  1. First, combine the essential oils in a small crock pot and then mix in all the herbs.
  2. Cook on Low for two days.
  3. Prepare to filter the herbal mixture by placing a piece of cheesecloth in a mesh colander.
  4. Pour the hot mixture into the colander and allow time for it to filter through, leaving the herbs behind.
  5. Pour the filtered oil back into the crock pot and add the beeswax pellets, a few at a time, until the wax is all melted and the mixture is smooth.
  6. Pour the rub into small jars, cap tightly, and store in a cool, dark location.

Learn about other home remedies used during the Great Depression here. These can complement a traditional approach.

The Final Word

The time to prepare for the cold and flu season is now. You’ll thank yourself later if your family members start to fall like dominoes as the virus makes its rounds through your house. Educate everyone on what to do and how to use the items, so if you’re out of commission, they can take care of themselves AND you.

How do you prepare your home and family for a case of the flu or cold?

Originally published December 8, 2017; updated by The Survival Mom editors.

15 thoughts on “Simple Steps to Get Ready Now for a Miserable Cold and Flu Season (Plus DIY Recipes!)”

  1. I love these recipes. I am always on the look out for natural products since my son has allergies and I just don’t trust many of the products with so much toxic chemicals bad. I am simply amazed at how many times I have used all natural remedies to combat sickness and have been very successful including strep throat without drugs. The various essential oils are very powerful used in the vapor rub. Just be careful about getting in to the eyes since that can be very painful and tricky to get relief. I will certainly repost on DisasterMOM your recipes. I read that if the therapeutic oils are pure and if they have no carrier oils they can last for years if stored properly.

  2. Oh thank you-thank you Lisa!! Compounding was my favorite class in pharmacy school, and I made sure that one of externships was at a compounding pharmacy. It is just so fun to make medications, creams, perfume, etc from scratch.I only hope that one day I am lucky enough to have that huge work area featured in Practical Magic!! For now, I compound on my kitchen counter that I cover with old fashioned oil cloth in case something spills.
    A few tips:
    1-If you are mixing anything toxic; put the dogs in their crates, put babies in swings or playpens, and get older kids under control before the start up. It will make your stress level almost zero if you have an accident.
    2-Your compounding utensils and your kitchen utensils need to be separate-always. You don’t want cross contamination either way. My kitchen stuff is in the usual spots in the kitchen: my compounding supplies are kept in beautiful boxes that you buy from Hancock Fabrics or Home Goods. That way, there is no question.
    3-Keep an eye out for pestles & mortars, old but useable crockpots, etc. at the thrift stores. You would be surprised what people give away.
    4-Buy throw away plastic gloves, or latex if you can use latex. You always use gloves in a compounding pharmacy to keep out skin cells, bacteria, etc. Also, if you have a cold, allergies, or just sneeze a lot, use a face mask. That is also mandatory in compounding.
    5-Have fun! There is a little wise woman in all of us. In the old days, a pharmacist first had to be a botanist before he/she could be a medical doctor. The pioneers made their own medicines out of need.

  3. Thanks, Lisa! I really think that we need to keep the old ways that worked alive. I have found a great website that teaches how to make all the herb preparations on line. I am busy trying to add that to my skill sets, but there is much to learn. I have been trying to find someone local to teach me, but they are pretty scarce around here. I have noticed that my local health food store has added two large rows of all things herbal in the last month, but, when I asked them who would be a person with whom to talk about learning to use the herbs, they said that they didn’t know of anyone. I found that odd given all the new product lines.

  4. Alexis would you share the website for making herbal preparations? I’d love to see that.
    Thanks Lisa for these lovely recipes!

    1. The website is It doesn’t look like there’s a lot on there, but if you click on a page, there are other things to click on for each of those pages. There are also lots of really good youtube videos with the site, and the man that does the demos is really good and gives detailed clear instructions. I just found it by chance, and I’ve really learned tons.

  5. Lisa, I have made the Homemade Liquid Vapor Rub and added soy wax to it, so it would solidify to be more like a vapor rub. About 2 to 3 tbsp. Like a vicks rub.

  6. My favorite recipe for colds is a tisane composed of approximately equal parts of dried mullein leaf, licorice root, crushed dried rose hips and half a part of crushed red peppers.

  7. I’m a huge fan of DoTerra’s ON Guard. A few drops mixed with a teaspoon of honey works well at the onset of a sore throat, as does a few drops in hot tea. The flavor takes getting used to, but I enjoy it in tea. Also use it on the kids feet when we know we’ll be exposed, such as the first week back to school. DoTerra’s Family Physician kit has been a great purchase for us. BTW, I don’t sell it, just a really happy customer 🙂

  8. Garlic, Honey and Lemon Cold Remedy
    When combined with honey and garlic, lemon juice makes a soothing cold remedy for sore throat and bronchial disorders.
    1. Finely chop two cloves fresh garlic,
    2. Add 1/4 cup raw honey and 2 to 4 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice.
    3. Mix well to combine, and allow the mixture to steep for two to eight hours.
    4. Take up to 1 tsp of the mixture every hour to alleviate cold symptoms. Store any excess in the refrigerator when not in use.

  9. This will boost your immune system at first sign of cold or flu, warning it tastes nasty.
    I’m a smoker which reduces immune system & I used to catch 2 colds a year average.
    I found this 5 years ago and take at first sign of illness along with C and haven’t been sick


    1) Clean Quart Jar add 1/4 pound dried elderberries (Must be Sambucus nigra)
    2) Now fill to top with vodka. Put lid on tight.
    3) Store in a dark cupboard and shake once every few days.
    4) Label and date your jar. Let it sit for at least 30 days before you strain it. You can use it without straining it too and it will just continue to get stronger
    . Dosage: 1 teaspoon four to five times daily during infections. Otherwise once daily.

    Learn more:

  10. My Grandma made this cough syrup and last February when a nasty and lingering cough hit us I remembered it and made it – you know what – it works.

    1. Take equal quantities of raw onion and white sugar. You can use honey if you don’t like the idea of white sugar.

    2. Peel the onion and then grate/mash together with the sugar, I use an electric chopping gadget and put sugar and onion in together.

    3. Put it into a screw top jar overnight.

    4. Drain through a seive and put the syrup into the rinsed jar.

    5. Keep in a fridge, it lasts about a week.

    You can start drinking the syrup from the time you see it start to form, don’t have to wait until it is strained, just a teaspoon every hour.

    It is very effective.

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  12. Just avoid essential oils that aren’t safe or wise during pregnancy and nursing. Peppermint oil reduces breastmilk production. Lots of people have allergic reactions to lavender on their skin… There is info online about which oils are pregnancy and nursing safe.

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