School is always a breeding ground for colds and the flu. This year, parents are really questioning the strength of their children’s immune systems. They’re wondering what foods to avoid and which ones to include in order to boost kids’ immune systems, in case they are exposed to COVID19.

My strategy when it comes to the immune system is twofold: 

#1: Decrease the immune system stressors.

#2: Provide the immune system with the nutrients it needs to function optimally.  

How To Decrease Immune System Stress

So, what exactly is straining our kids’ immune systems? A lot of the time, it’s sugar.  Most parents know that sugary snacks and treats are not the most nutritious, but many do not know that they have an adverse effect on the immune system. My kids get sick a few times each year: the week after Hallowe’en, the week after Christmas, and the week after Easter – it’s no coincidence!  Substituting sugary snacks with whole, nutrient-dense food will do wonders for kids’ immune systems.

Be sure to read labels as some foods labeled as “healthy” are loaded with sugar! Be sure to download my freebie “4 Sources of Hidden Sugar and Easy Swaps” here.

Adding Immune System Nutrients

So, what nutrients are required for boosting kids’ immune systems?  Most of us are familiar with Vitamin C for immune support, but Protein, Vitamin D, and Zinc are equally important in maintaining immune function.

Vitamin C –  All brightly colored fruits and veggies contain a fair amount of Vitamin C.  Aim for variety with fruits and vegetables to prevent your kids from getting bored. An easy method is to use a different fruit and vegetable in their lunches for each day of the week.  For example, Monday is carrot day; Tuesday is red peppers, etc.  Kids also love predictability, especially during these unpredictable COVID times.  

Protein – it’s not just for building muscles!  Our body needs it for many immune system functions.   Many children snack on foods that tend to be high in carbohydrates and low in protein, such as toast, granola bars, and cookies.  Including a source of protein with each snack ensures that their immune systems will be properly fueled.  High protein snacks include hard-boiled eggs,  hummus, cheese, nuts, and seeds (check out this school-safe, nut-free trail mix  Be careful with meals that rely too much on starch (bread, pasta, rice), and be sure to include a protein source such as beans or lentils, fish, poultry, meat, or quinoa.  

Vitamin D – is often associated with bone health but it is also a critical component in our immune system functioning.  The best way to get Vitamin D is to spend 20 minutes in the sun with your face and forearms exposed – this becomes a challenge once it gets chilly so Vitamin D supplements are recommended during winter months in Northern climates. 

Zinc –  is needed to fight off bacteria and viruses.  The food with the highest amount of zinc is oysters (600% of the daily value per serving!) but other great sources of zinc include chicken, seafood, cashews, and pumpkin seeds (an easy snack to add into lunch boxes).  

More Immune Building Snack Ideas:

Apples (not the sauce) – applesauce has a lot of vitamins but it contains more sugar than whole apples and it lacks some of the fibre of whole apples since the skin of the apples isn’t included – fibre helps control blood sugar spikes.  An apple can be eaten whole or sliced for kids who have missing teeth or loose teeth (pretty much all kids from age 6-10).  Add protein and even more fibre with sunflower or pumpkin seed butter.

Berries – are a great fruit choice due to their lower sugar content and most kids love them.  Pair them with nuts or seeds or add them to chia pudding for a protein boost (Basic Chia pudding: put 3 tbsp whole chia seeds and 1 cup vanilla almond or oat milk in a bowl.  Stir with a fork, and put it in the fridge for an hour.  Stir again then leave refrigerated for a few hours or overnight.  Stir before serving)

Veggie sticks & dip – rotate veggies so kids don’t get tired of them (carrots, celery, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, green/yellow beans, peas in the pod).  Rotate the dips too to increase variety (tzatziki, hummus, guacamole).

Edamame (aka soybeans) – easily boiled in saltwater for 5 minutes and eaten hot or cold – kids like squeezing them out of their pods (don’t eat the pods) – they are very filling and high in protein.

If you would like to get more tips for improving your family’s diet, head over to Facebook, and join my group!