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Inside: Wondering what you can do to help support your child’s immune system? The key: nutrient-dense meals with a variety of foods. You’ll learn which foods do the job here.
It’s no secret: kids get sick.
Sometimes it seems like they’re little magnets that attract colds, the flu, and other viral infections.
Whether it’s the current situation or daycare, preschool, or school, kids are exposed to a constant stream of germs. It doesn’t help if you have a kid like mine, that loves to “swim” on the floor of any public place. Gross.
The fact is, you just can’t prevent kids from catching something once in a while.
Fortunately, there are lots of little techniques that you can teach your kids to help promote their resistance against illnesses.
Good hand hygiene, the “vampire cough” into a sleeve or an elbow, the importance of plenty of sleep and regular exercise…
Each of these works together to promote a healthy immune system.
All of that said—one of the best ways you can help your child’s long-term immune health is through a nutrient-dense diet.
Promoting balanced dietary patterns
Let’s get something out of the way right up front: there is no miracle food that will instantly supercharge your child’s natural defenses. In fact, there’s no such thing as “boosting” the immune system. We don’t want an overactive immune system. That’s just as bad as an under-active immune system.
The heart of good nutrition is in promoting balanced eating habits and healthy dietary patterns.
A balanced immune system is what you’re aiming for. One that has all the resources it needs to fight off infections as they happen.
Here’s the secret to a nutritious diet for kids to maintain a balanced immune system. Having a plan for nutrient-dense meals and snacks in addition to serving a variety of foods.
That means serving less fried foods, processed foods, and foods that are high in processed sugar. These foods don’t provide as many nutrients to kids, so I like to think of them as “play foods.” They are fun, but kids also need lots of other foods. In our home we serve “play foods” about 0-2 a day. We serve dessert a few times a week, but more often if they develop an obsession around it.
Snacks can be a great time of the day to give kids lots of options to get the nutrients they need.
The top immune supporting foods
The good news is that providing healthy, well-rounded food for your kids is completely possible.
You don’t have to spend your time tracking down rare and exotic foods and vitamin supplements.
Good, immune-balancing nutrition is easiest when you have a plan for what you are going to serve for the week.
So in the spirit of balance, here are the top foods that can help your child keep that optimal balance.
Colorful fruits and veggies
There’s an old saying: eat the rainbow. There’s a reason it’s been around for so long, it’s true!
A wide range of fruits and vegetables, from apples, to carrots, to broccoli, to bananas, can all provide nutrients for your child. If your child is not eating vegetables right now, then don’t be afraid to have them eat lots of fruit (but keep serving those veggies too!)
Most vegetables are rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, both primary building blocks in the body’s defense system. Especially so for orange and green leafy veggies to get extra Vitamin A.
Leafy green vegetables carry zinc, magnesium, and iron, while fruits carry vitamin E and potassium as well.
Berries in particular are a great choice, as they contain antioxidants which reduce disease-causing free radicals in the body.
If you take nothing else from this list, try to encourage your children to eat fruits and vegetables of all different colors. This has the single biggest immune-balancing effect of any food choice.
Fruits and vegetables are important, but don’t forget the proteins!
Lean proteins like chicken, fish, beans, almonds, unsalted peanuts, and seeds are great ways for kids to get protein. For kids who are under four, you can serve nuts ground into powder and mixed into foods, or serve as a thin smear on bread.
Proteins serve a vital role in replenishing your immune system’s antibodies, giving those antibodies the basic fuel they need to fight off infections.
Try mixing vegetables with nuts and seeds for a tasty and interesting snack combo in kids over age 4.
Yogurt is a great option for kids as well, especially the plain kind without a lot of added sugar. Maybe your kids, like mine, aren’t loving unsweetened yogurt now that they know about flavored options. I like to add a little maple syrup or honey. Both have nutritional benefits and add the sweetness my kids are looking for. Plus, I can control how much I add, which I like.
Yogurt provides the body with added protein, probiotics (helpful bacteria that can assist with immune health), and vitamin D, a hard to come by vitamin that we primarily get from direct exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D helps your immune system regulate itself, letting immune receptors know when it’s time to activate.
The best part about yogurt is its versatility. It can be mixed with fruit and nuts or used as a dip for vegetables.
Fatty Fish are high in “omega-3 fatty acids,” a family of super-fats that serve an important role in regulating your child’s immune system. These prevent the body’s defense mechanism from overreacting to an infection, which can cause damage to the body and diminished immunity down the road. (Good news: fish is also a lean protein – yay for a 2 in one food!)
What kid doesn’t love french fries? Even the pickiest eater will usually gobble them up by the handful.
If you have a “fry” lover, try making sweet potato “fries”. Sweet potatoes, unlike regular potatoes, are rich in vitamin A and antioxidants just like fruits and vegetables. (They’re like a mix of the best properties of carrots and berries, all rolled into one. Another 2 in 1 food – double yay!)
Use the a fun word like “fries” when you talk about serving sweet potatoes and serve a little ketchup or their favorite dip on the side to help them accept a new kind of french fry. Dips and sauces can serve as great companions for new foods to make them familiar and less scary for selective eaters.
Get Nutrient-dense Meal Ideas with Real Easy Weekdays
Parenting isn’t easy. We all lead busy lives. And just because raising and caring for little people can be such a monumental (and rewarding) task doesn’t mean that serving them good food has to be hard too.
That’s why I create the Real Easy Weekdays meal system for my own family – and I’ve now shared it with many other families. It helps you get a balanced menu full of fun and colorful nutrient-dense meals. It helps you build in at least one orange vegetable into your daily diet for that added vitamin A that I mentioned earlier.
Plus it gives you ideas for well balanced snacks to serve every day. While the meal plan is comprised of mostly homemade food, there are some convenience items included to help you save time (& sanity!) Families love using Real Easy Weekdays to save brain space and still provide home cooked meals for their loved ones.
As a added bonus- parents of picky eaters are loving the built-in food exposures in the meal system. If you also have a selective eater in the home, they will get repeated exposures to new veggies and other nutrient-dense foods they may not have seen before!