Skip to main content
Immunity

Preventing the Back to School Illness

Simone Austin
Written by Simone Austin | Swisse Accredited Practising Dietitian
Family preventing back to school illness

When school and child care return so do the germs, to our home! It is the start of what seems to be an endless time of runny noses and general sickness.

If it is your child’s first year or two off to child care or school, expect that there will be numerous times the common cold and runny noses can hit. Their immune systems are not as strong as adults and with so many young bodies in close proximity, coughing sneezing, touching things and each other continuously, there is no wonder the germs spread like wild fire! There are over 200 different viruses (1) that can lead to the common cold so that is a lot of immune system development to be done!

What can we do to reduce the risk of sickness?

  1. Keep your child home when they have a fever or are sick (2)
  2. Wash their hands with soap when they first get home
  3. Stick to the immunization schedule (3)
  4. Teach children how to cough and sneeze into their elbow (4) to avoid spraying everywhere
  5. Encourage eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables

What to eat to support a child’s immune system

One of the keys to a child’s diet is trying to get in some variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. We all know getting kids to eat vegetables 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.

Fresh Fruit

Always add some fresh fruit in 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

Vegetables

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 omelets, mix them into soups or salads along with lots of other flavours.

Wholegrains

Wholegrains (5) 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, important for the immune system.

Seafood

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 immune system. If you don’t like fish there is some omega 3 fats found in walnuts, flaxseeds and lean meat such as kangaroo. The animal source of omega 3 are better absorbed than plant sources(6). If seafood is not a favourite try making it into fish burgers, salmon patties, home made fish fingers, fish curries or tacos.

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 small bright side! Of course if your child is unwell and has a fever for a period of time seek advice from your doctor.

References

  1. https://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Common-cold
  2. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/looking-after-a-sick-child
  3. https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation
  4. https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/science/humans/article/2016/02/15/why-you-should-sneeze-your-elbow
  5. https://www.glnc.org.au/grains-2/grains-and-nutrition/
  6. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/why-not-flaxseed-oil