A strong immune system is crucial for kids to fight off infections and stay healthy. The immune system defends the body against germs and microbes that can cause illness. However, the immune system is not fully developed in children, making them more susceptible to infections.
Providing immune-boosting foods in a child’s diet can help strengthen their immunity and prevent frequent bouts of cold, flu, and other illnesses. The right nutrients allow the immune system to function optimally.
In this article, we will discuss the importance of immune-boosting foods for kids, the top foods that help boost immunity, tips for getting kids to eat these foods, and a FAQ section on related topics.
Why Are Immune-Boosting Foods Important For Kids?
Kids are more vulnerable to picking up infections from school, playgrounds, and other public places. Their exposure is high but immunity is low. Immune-boosting foods provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support the developing immune system. These include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein.
Deficiency in any of these nutrients can weaken immunity. Loading up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, yogurt, and other immunity-boosting foods provides a nutritional shield against disease-causing microorganisms. Additionally, some foods contain probiotics that support gut health, which is closely linked to immunity. Including such foods in a kid’s balanced diet helps safeguard health.
Best Immune Boosting Foods For Kids
Here are some of the top foods to include in a kid’s diet for super immunity:
- Citrus Fruits – Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that increases the production of white blood cells, which are key players in an immune response. Squeezing some lemon in drinks or fruits can also help.
- Red Bell Peppers – These vibrantly colored veggies contain twice the amount of vitamin C as citrus fruits. Vitamin C boosts the activity of white blood cells while acting as an antioxidant. Red bell peppers also provide beta-carotene.
- Broccoli – This green vegetable is full of vitamins and minerals. Broccoli has vitamins A, C, E, K, and B6, iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and fiber. It’s practically an all-in-one immune-boosting food. The antioxidants and phytochemicals further enhance immunity.
- Yogurt – Look for plain, unsweetened yogurt with live and active cultures, otherwise known as probiotics. Probiotics support gut health and a healthy gut means a strong immune system. Yogurt makes for a nutritious snack.
- Almonds – All types of nuts are good for immunity but almonds top the list. Almonds are high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight infection. They also provide magnesium, manganese, and fiber. A small handful a day neatly packed into lunch boxes can help.
- Kiwifruit – These small green fruits are edible powerhouses containing more vitamin C per ounce than oranges. Kiwifruit also has potassium, folate, vitamin K, vitamin E, and antioxidants. Mixing kiwifruit into smoothies, fruit salads, and yogurt parfaits can benefit kids.
- Turmeric – This bright yellow spice is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric that bolsters immunity. Adding a pinch of turmeric to milk, rice, soups, and stews can help children reap the immune-boosting effects.
- Green Tea – The antioxidants called catechins present in green tea are powerful immune enhancers. Green tea also provides flu-fighting compounds. Serve warm green tea to kids above 2 years in small quantities.
- Poultry – Chicken soup has long been recommended to fight cold and flu. Other forms of poultry like turkey are also beneficial. Poultry provides B vitamins, zinc, selenium, and protein – all key players that fortify immunity.
- Mushrooms – Mushrooms offer a range of nutrients like B vitamins, copper, selenium, and antioxidants. Shiitake and maitake mushrooms, in particular, contain immunity-boosting polysaccharides. Adding mushrooms to dishes like omelets, pasta sauce, and soup helps kids get these benefits.
Tips For Getting Kids To Eat Immune-Boosting Foods
Here are some tips to get kids to enjoy healthy, immune-boosting foods:
- Make smoothies with yogurt, fruits, spinach, turmeric and ginger. Add honey or berries to sweeten if required. Smoothies are a great way to pack nutrition.
- Try oven-roasted veggies like broccoli and red bell peppers. Roast with some olive oil and spices for enhanced flavor.
- Mix chopped fruits like kiwifruit and oranges into yogurt parfaits layered with oats and nuts.
- Make a trail mix with nuts, seeds, coconut flakes, diced dry fruits, and dark chocolate chips. Keep handy as a snack.
- Shape chicken nuggets, fish fingers, or meatballs from ground poultry or fish. Bread and bake for an appealing immune-boosting dish.
- Make a nourishing chicken noodle soup with chicken broth, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, whole wheat noodles and chopped chicken.
- Sneak a mashed or grated carrot into spaghetti sauce, muffins, or even pancakes for extra nutrition.
- Make fruit kebabs with favorite fruits like watermelon, pineapple, and grapes. Or create a tropical fruit salad.
- Let kids help prepare their own immune-boosting meals. They’ll be more inclined to eat foods they helped make.
A strong immune system is vital for kids to stay protected against various illnesses. Incorporating certain foods like citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, berries, nuts, chicken and more can provide immune-strengthening vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Try creative recipes and fun food ideas to get kids excited about eating their immunity-boosting foods. Building healthy eating habits right from childhood helps establish lifelong immunity.
Vitamin C is the most crucial vitamin for immunity. It increases white blood cells, acts as an antioxidant, and reduces the duration of respiratory infections. Good food sources include oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, peppers, and kiwi.
Insufficient nutrition is the most common cause of weakened immunity in kids. Deficiencies of vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, and protein can hamper immune function. Other causes include lack of sleep, physical inactivity, obesity, chronic stress, and diseases like HIV or cancer that impair the immune system.
You can boost children’s immunity naturally by providing nutritious foods, ensuring adequate sleep and physical activity, avoiding smoking, managing stress, maintaining good hygiene, and giving probiotics and vitamin D if deficient. Herbs like ginger, garlic, echinacea, and astragalus also support immunity.
Some beneficial immune-boosting drinks for kids include fruit smoothies with yogurt, green tea, warm turmeric milk, bone broth, fresh fruit juices, and coconut water. Limit sugar-sweetened drinks which can decrease immunity.
School-age children between 6-12 years need 9-12 hours of sleep daily while teens need 8-10 hours for optimal immune function. Lack of sleep is linked with an increased risk of infections. Maintaining proper sleep habits is key for immunity.