Does your child experience frequent colds, infections, rashes, or delayed growth? While it is common for children to experience an occasional cold or infection, more frequent health problems may be related to a weak immune system. Did you know that a child’s immune system continues developing from birth through adolescence and over 70% of the immune system is located in the gut?
One of the best tools you have as a parent to boost your child’s immune system and help protect them against a variety of seasonal bugs like a cold or flu, or acute infections, is through healthy food choices.
When it comes to foods that support kids’ immune systems, here are our top 10 superstar foods (or food categories).
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are an excellent source of vitamin C, which boosts the body’s ability to fight infection.
- Garlic is a natural antimicrobial, which helps fight infection. It also contains prebiotic fiber that feeds healthy gut bacteria and strengthens the immune system.
- Ginger has powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties that boost the immune system.
- Turmeric can help protect against viral infections and regulate the immune system.
- Mushrooms, particularly shiitake, are a great source of B vitamins, antioxidants and fiber and have been shown to support healthy immune function.
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and radishes contain lots of immune-supportive vitamins and antioxidants. This includes vitamins A, C, E, and prebiotic fiber, which supports gut health.
- Dark leafy greens, including kale, spinach, arugula, swiss chard, and mustard greens contain vitamins C, A, K, B vitamins, fiber, calcium, and antioxidants that help the immune system stay balanced.
- Nuts and seeds contain vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. These nutrients support immune function.
- Fatty fish and shellfish, such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring, are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
- Legumes contain B vitamins, magnesium, and fiber, which help regulate the immune response and support gut health.
Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly ways to incorporate these immune-supportive foods:
- Citrus fruits can be added to daily snacks, spritzed on top of veggies, or squeezed into seltzer water instead of drinking soda. Try our Energetic Carrot Smoothie recipe, which includes orange juice. Also, fresh lemon, lime, or oranges can be sliced in half and squeezed on top of a stir fry or over steamed vegetables for an extra burst of zesty flavor.
- Garlic is very flavorful and fragrant, and the key to getting kids to eat garlic is to “disguise” it within meals. Our Ground Beef Tacos with Oven Roasted Vegetables is an easy way to cook with garlic powder. These tacos also feature the cruciferous veggie cauliflower, as well as other foods rich in immune-supportive nutrients! If you want to try fresh garlic, we suggest chopping it into very fine pieces and adding it to ground meat or soups as you cook them.
- Ginger and turmeric have strong flavors and may take a little experimentation and persistence to get children’s taste buds familiar with them. You can add a small amount of either ginger root or powder or turmeric root or powder (about ¼ inch root or ¼ tsp powder) to smoothies or stir-fried vegetables. Also, our Cinnamon Granola includes ginger and a favorite with the kids! Turmeric can easily be disguised in chili – add it to our Black Bean Chili and let us know what you think. You can also try adding a small amount of turmeric to smoothies – you’ll be amazed at the beautiful orange color it adds!
- Kids can find the texture of mushrooms a bit unusual, so it’s helpful to add them to a dish that has additional flavors and textures. Our Creamy Mushroom Soup is a hearty meal that also includes garlic and is full of flavor.
- Cruciferous veggies can be added to eggs, such as in our Veggie Fritatta Muffins, roasted with sauces and spices, like our Roasted Maple Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts, or enjoyed in a delicious soup, like our Creamy Cauliflower Soup. Try a variety of cruciferous veggies to see which ones you child likes the most and keep expanding from there.
- We love our dark leafy greens! One of the easiest ways to add them into your child’s diet is by adding small amounts to a smoothie or soup. Our Green-Orange smoothie features both spinach and citrus fruit – you can try other dark leafy greens instead too, such as kale or swiss chard. One of our favorite meals is our Green Soup, which not only includes delicious and nutritious garlic, but also broccoli, leeks, and kale!
- A great way to offer nuts and seeds to children is with nut or seed butter. We love almond butter or sunflower seed butter – the key is to make sure they don’t have added sugars and hydrogenated oils. Just plain nuts or seeds in the ingredients is best! Enjoy the butter on top of our Sweet Potato Toasts or they can be added to the Cinnamon Granola recipe. Nuts and seeds also make a delicious snack – mix with a small amount of coconut oil, cinnamon, ginger, and maple syrup and pop in the toaster oven at 325 ° F for 10-20 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool and enjoy!
- When it comes to offering kids seafood, it’s helpful to purchase fresh fish and cook it with other strong flavors and spices, such as garlic, lemon, and honey or tamari. Try out our Honey Glazed Baked Salmon or Zucchini Pasta with Avocado cream sauce and Salmon. Some kids love sardines while others don’t enjoy it – you never know until you offer a taste! We prefer the Wild Planet brand for sardines, as they have a mild flavor.
- Legumes are very versatile and can be included in a lot of dishes. Our Quinoa and Vegetable Casserole with Pinto Beans and Polenta Crust features pinto beans and our Delicious Lentil Soup is a tasty dish that includes lentils, kale, garlic, and many more healthy ingredients. You can also find dried garbanzo beans at the grocery store and kids love to eat these as snacks!
Just remember – it can take time for kid’s taste buds to warm up to new flavors and textures, so keep offering them these healthy food options and stay patient in the process! Even small amounts go a long way!