Foods To Boost Kids’ Immune Systems
Sometimes it can feel like your little one catches a new bug every week. While this is all part of growing up, one of the ways you can support them is by ensuring they’re getting a diet rich in vitamins to boost the immune system for kids. We all know getting kids to eat healthy foods can be a challenge and the last thing we want is for meal time to become war time, so here are some tips to make the challenge easier and provide a diet that helps boost the immune system for kids.
What causes low immunity in kids?
There are a number of factors that can cause a low immune system in a child and impact their body’s immune response. Things like not getting enough sleep or enough outdoor time, too much processed or fried foods, and stress and anxiety can impact the body’s immune response(1). Nutrition plays a huge role in helping to build up the immune system in a child, so it’s important to ensure that your child is consuming a healthy diet rich in immune-boosting foods(1).
What foods build up the immune system?
Eating a diet rich in fresh foods and low in processed foods can help ensure your little one gets the nutrients it needs to support immune health. In particular, focus on foods such as:
Always add some fresh fruit to the lunchbox. Have your child pick what fruit it will be - not if it will be, but which it will be. For little ones it is often easier to use bite sized fruit such as grapes, berries, mandarin segments or cut up fruit. A whole apple can be overwhelming to get through when you want to go out and play. Fresh fruit is important for vitamin C along with an array of other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that play a role in the functioning of the immune system.
Include vegetables at both lunch and evening meal times. These come with loads of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Bite sized cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, snow peas, carrot sticks and baby beetroots are great for the lunch box and can be easy and delicious to eat for tired little ones at the evening meal. Sweet vegetables will be preferred. Dark green leafy vegetables are important for the iron they provide but they can be bitter, so jazz them up a little. Put them in a stir fry with sauces, chop them into frittatas or omelettes, mix them into soups or salads along with lots of other flavours.
Wholegrains (7) are important to eat most of the time. The occasional white bread or refined grains are ok but choose wholegrain or wholemeal bread, brown rice or half white, half brown. The zinc is valuable for maintaining healthy immune function and some of the fibre they provide will feed the good gut bacteria, supporting gut health, which is important for the immune system.
Eat seafood, particularly the oily kind. Seafood contains omega 3 fats which are not only good for your brain but also good for overall health and the immune system(8). If you don’t like fish there is some omega 3 fats found in walnuts, flaxseeds and some lean meat such as kangaroo. The animal sources of omega 3 are better absorbed than plant sources(9). If seafood by itself is not a favourite, try making it into fish burgers, salmon patties, homemade fish fingers, fish curries or tacos.
The best ways to boost kids’ immune systems
Boosting your child’s immune system means following some simple guidelines that apply to maintaining good overall health:
- Make sure they’re consuming a balanced diet consisting of proteins, a sufficient amount of carbs, good fats, leafy vegetables and seasonal fruits.
- Ensure they’re getting sufficient sleep.
- Help them maintain good hygiene.
- Offer them lots of opportunities to be physically active (10).
What are the signs of a weakened immune system in children?
Some indicators of a low immune system in your child include:
- Frequent infections and colds, more than the average three to four colds a year that children tend to catch.
- Irregular bowel movements and digestive issues.
- Low energy when compared to other children.
- Their injuries take longer to heal (10).
We are unlikely to avoid illness completely even if we are fastidious with precautions. On the bright side, all of those sniffles and sneezes are building your child’s immune system resilience, so there is a silver lining! Of course, if your child is unwell and has a fever for an extended period of time, seek advice from your doctor.
- Harvard Medical School. Boosting your child's immune system https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/boosting-your-childs-immune-system-202110122614 Published 17 July 2023
- Fang H, Anhê FF, Schertzer JD. Dietary sugar lowers immunity and microbiota that protect against metabolic disease. Cell Metab. 2022;34(10):1422-1424. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2022.09.006
- Government of Western Australia, Department of Health: Healthy WA. Common Cold https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Common-cold
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care: healthdirect. Looking after a sick child. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/looking-after-a-sick-child
- Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. Immunisation. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. Grains and Nutrition. https://www.glnc.org.au/grains-2/grains-and-nutrition/
- Bland JS. Therapeutic Use of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Immune Disorders In Search of the Ideal Omega-3 Supplement. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2022;21(5):14-18.
- Harvard Medical School. Why not flaxseed oil? https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/why-not-flaxseed-oil Published 29 July 2019
- Dr. KM Cherian Institute of Medical Sciences. 5 Signs Of Weak Immunity In Children & How To Treat Them. https://www.drkmcims.com/signs-of-weak-immunity/ Sourced 18 August 2023