After a long summer, it’s finally time for the kids to go back to school! You are looking forward to a little more free time and the kids are excited to see their friends and meet their new teacher. But, the excitement dies as soon as they are home again and sick with whatever it going around.
For me, the first 6 months my kids were in school were awful. It seemed like they were sick all the time. I actually questioned if there was something wrong with their immune systems. Being a Registered Dietitian I ended up taking several steps nutrition-wise to keep them healthy. These are things we still practice regularly, especially during cold and flu season. They don’t stay healthy 100% of the time, but it is a significant improvement from how things were before we made these changes.
Fruits and Veggies for Immunity
Adding a ton of fruits and vegetables to the diet is the best way to keep the immune system strong. All fruits and veggies contain various immune-boosting phytonutrients such as vitamin C, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. These nutrients in plants have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties.1 A diet full of plants is the secret to a healthy immune system.
But, how do you get more fruits and veggies into a kid? My kids do pretty well with fruit, but veggies can depend on their mood. I know they need to eat at least 5-9 servings a day. Here are a few tips to help them get those servings in:
- If they are old enough, engage them in the planning, shopping, prepping, and the cooking process. Have them pick a new fruit or veggie to try each week. Visit a farmer’s market together. Get them involved in any way to keep them interested in trying new foods.
- Cater (somewhat) to their taste preferences. Younger kids, in particular, love dipping. They also prefer crunchy vegetables to cooked ones. There is no reason why they can’t eat raw carrots over cooked. Or sliced up peppers with dip. It doesn’t matter how they eat them as long as they do, so serve them in a way that they enjoy.
- Consider fruit and veggie powders. Fruit and vegetable powders are a great way to get in a few extra servings in a kid-friendly way. Adding these types of products to my kid’s diets is what made all the difference in their health. Research backs the use of fruit and veggie powders as a way to boost the immune system. A 2011 study found that the addition of fruit and veggie powders reduced the number of sick days by 20%.2
Really focusing on getting more fruits and veggies into their diet is what made the biggest difference for my kids and my sanity.
Lifestyle Changes for Immunity
Being a dietitian, I obviously focused on diet-related improvements I could make to help my kids stay well. But, there are a lot of lifestyle changes that can help also. Here are a few:
- Get outside. Boosting vitamin D levels can support immune health.3 This can be hard if you live somewhere cold, so speak to your doctor regarding a vitamin D supplement.
- Prioritize sleep. Lack of sleep leaves you susceptible to illness. A school aged child needs between 9-11 hours of sleep a night. Help your child get enough rest by maintaining a strict routine around bedtime and sleep.4
- Exercise together. Regular moderate exercise helps boost the immune system.5 Children need at least 2 hours of daily physical activity to stay healthy. Encourage kids to play outdoors when possible or exercise regularly as a family.
- Wash your hands. Get your child into the habit of hand washing once they come home from school, before meals, and after using the bathroom.
I know it is frustrating when kids get sick, but by supporting their immune system with a few diet and lifestyle changes, you can try to keep them healthy and happy throughout the school year. Or at least help them get better faster.
Yours in health-
Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD
IVL’s Community Registered Dietitian
- Gupta, C. & Prakash, D.. Phytonutrients as therapeutic agents. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine. 2014;11(3:)151-169.
- Roll S, Nocon M, & Willich SN. Reduction of common cold symptoms by encapsulated juice powder concentrate of fruits and vegetables: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2011;105(1):118-122.
- Hewison M. An update on vitamin D and human immunity. Clin Endo. 2011;76(3):315-325.
- Mindell J et al. Bedtime Routines for Young Children: A Dose-Dependent Association with Sleep Outcomes. Sleep. 2015;38(5):717-722.
- Nieman DC. Current perspective on exercise immunology. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2003;2: 239.