Now that winter is well and truly upon us (in the Southern hemisphere at least), I’m hearing from lots of mums and dads who’d like to boost their child’s immunity and prevent the relentless coughs and colds.
Helping your child’s immune system is possible through healthy, natural foods, and with a little time and effort, you might prevent that next antibiotic prescription.
Here are my top 10 tips to boost your child’s immune system.
Eat at least 5 servings of immunity-boosting fruit and veggies every day
A good diet is the foundation of a healthy immune system and making sure your child has lots and lots of fruit and vegetables in their diet is a fantastic first step. Try to get at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day.
Every meal and most snacks should contain some vegetables. Try to include a rainbow of vegetables, as each colour represents different phytochemicals (the vitamins and other goodies in the vegetables).
How about adding some wilted spinach at breakfast, or including some veggie sticks for morning tea, and perhaps a small thermos of soup at lunch time.
Aim to include a mixture of raw vegetables, fermented vegetables and cooked vegetables every day.
When it comes to fruits, choose seasonal fruits – nature knows what we need and provides us with an abundance of high vitamin C citrus fruit in winter. Fruits are also cheaper when they are in season.
Choose your supplements carefully
There are lot of vitamins and supplements on the market targeted at children’s immunity. Think cartoon characters, bright colours, cool shapes.
What child wouldn’t love them?
These are generally very sweet, really fun packaging and tasty. Ironically, sugar depletes your child’s immune system, so chewing a few too many of these gummies will be doing more harm than good.
Alas, they are jam packed full of sugar and other additives. The amount of actual vitamins and minerals in these is too tiny. There isn’t enough to help your child at all!
You are much better off buying a better quality supplement. This has much more of the active ingredients and a lot less of the nasty additives. Sure, it will cost you more initially, but at least it is doing what it claims to do.
If you, like many other parents, have been buying the gummies, and your child’s immune system still isn’t firing as you would like to, try swapping to a more therapeutic supplement, not targeted at kids. You will be pleasantly surprised with this difference
When you are choosing a supplement, here are a few tips of what to look for:
- Vitamins and minerals to help boost immunity are are Vitamin A,C and Zinc
- Useful herbs in supplements include Echinacea and Elderberry.
- Look for NO added sugar (stevia is ok, avoid artificial sweeteners)
Try a little Cod Liver oil
This might seem like it is straight out of the middles ages, but don’t write it off just yet!
Cod liver oil is high in vitamin A and vitamin D. It also contains essential fatty acids, which are so beneficial for our health. There’s a reason why kids in the olden days used to line up to get their teaspoon of Cod Liver oil every day. These people knew prevention was better (and cheaper!) than cure.
Vitamins A and D are great for boosting your immune system.
The vitamin A, vitamin D and the EFAs work together to improve respiratory system health This can reduce the over-reaction of the immune system to irritants like pollen and dust.
Think less coughing, less asthma attacks, less croup.
You can buy cod liver oil with a bit of orange or peppermint essential oil, so they are pleasant enough to taste. All the same, don’t go adding them to smoothies – just take the dose on a spoon and then eat some food.
When you buy a good quality Cod Liver Oil, the amount children need is tiny, about half a teaspoon a day. If you child really isn’t keen, you can syringe the small amount into the back of their mouth. Can’t remember to take it? Set an alarm on your phone to go off just before breakfast or dinner.
Oh, and even in wintery weather, keep it in the fridge. Give a child rancid Cod Liver oil once, and they will never take it again!
Experiment with fermented foods
Another old tradition which has become popular in the last few years is fermented foods.
These are foods that naturally contain lots of beneficial yeasts and bacterial. By feeding your child good bugs, you can crowd out the bad bugs, and boost your child’s immune system.
The great thing about fermented foods is that they contain a vast array of different strains of bacteria and yeasts. This is different to probiotics which contain a limited number of different types.
Diversity of the bugs in your system in important for overall health.
Some kid friendly options include :
- Kefir (make into a delicious berry smoothie). You can make Kefir from dairy, or if your child is intolerant, you can make water kefir instead.
- Sauerkraut made with added carrots and beetroot to increase the kid appeal.
It is best to make these yourself at home, but you can also buy them in health food shops. Just make sure they aren’t pasteurised, or this will kill the bacteria that you want to introduce.
If your child hasn’t has fermented foods before, start with a small amount and increase over time. Otherwise they might get a bit windy for a few days!
Taking a probiotic supplement is also useful as you can consume a lot of bacteria in a short time.
Try to breastfeed your child as long as possible
By breastfeeding, your child is getting access to mum’s immune system.
They automatically get immunity to lots of the bugs that mum has developed immunity to. This mean less coughs and colds when breastfeeding.
If you child is transitioning to day care try to keep breastfeeding for at least a few more months. The first 6 weeks at day care can be the worst for being sick, and if the child is breastfed, it can make this a little less severe.
All the lovely cuddles can only help too!
Allow your child lots of sleep
Babies and young children needs a lot of sleep and rest time.
Too many activities, late nights and not enough quality sleep will put a strain on their immune system. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep (meaning you get more parents only time too!)
They should wake up refreshed in the morning. If they don’t, it might be wise to make bed time half an hour earlier.
Some children can handle an activity after school every day, some cannot. You need to figure out what works for your child.
7. Encourage plenty of exercise
Whilst too much exercise will dampen the immune system, enough exercise is crucial. Exercise increases the body’s natural killer cells. These are really important for fighting off coughs and colds.
So get out as a family – go for bike rides, walk the dog, play on the sand at the beach.
Give your child safe sun exposure
We get most of our vitamin D from the sun.
In winter we tend to spend more time inside and cover a lot of our body when we go outside. This causes vitamin D levels in our blood to drop.
Immune system function then decreases.
So get outside more often!
In most parts of Australia, even in winter, during the day is warm enough to go outside in a T shirt for at least a short time. The best parts of the body for converting the sunlight to vitamin D is bums and tums.
So even just a few minutes of nudie play in the middle of the day will be helpful.
Enjoy my immune boosting chicken soup
Another oldie but a goodie.
See my recipe for immune boosting chicken soup here.
Not only is your child getting all the nutrition from the chicken bones, they are also getting lots of vegetables, herbs and garlic.
Soup is great to have on breakfast in the winter. Don’t believe the marketing hype that breakfast has to be all about cereal and toast.
Why not soup for breakfast?
Garlic is an amazing natural antimicrobial. It is most effective raw, not cooked.
Garlic is also an expectorant, so it will help loose and get rid of respiratory congestion (aka Snot). The added herbs are also great for fighting colds.
Eat mucus-thinning foods
Mucus is a natural substance. If there is too much of it, it will become a breeding ground for bacteria. You know your child has too much mucus if they can feel it running down their throat, and they have to snort it.
The mucus could be in your child’s ears, lungs or throat.
What your child eats will affect the amount and type of mucus they produce.
Foods like dairy, sugar, white flour and food additives will increase the amount of mucus.
Foods like garlic, onions and spring onions will reduce the amount of mucus.
Water keeps the mucus thin, so make sure your child is drinking at least 1 litre every day.
I hope you find these 10 tips practical! Choose a few to focus on straight away, and a few to work on next month.
Hopefully this winter you can stay away from the doctors, and enjoy happy family time instead!