Preparing Your Child’s Immune System for Winter Bugs

As the weather starts to cool down, it’s common for our kids to start coming home with sniffles and coughs. We are constantly exposed to bacteria and viruses and this is a normal, healthy part of life that helps us to build a healthy immune system.

What is not normal though, is when they are continually sick, require multiple doses of antibiotics, or take a long time to recover. The key to ensure your child recovers well from any illness is to make sure their immune system is able to fight off the bugs that come their way.

Gut health and the immune system

3/4 of our immune cells are in our gut, so it makes sense that gut health has an important role to play in keeping our kids healthy. These specialised immune cells attack harmful invaders, like the viruses that cause colds and flus, and help to defend us from them. The lining of the gut is acts as a barrier to prevent nasty microbes getting into our bloodstream and making us sick and then there’s the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut that also have roles to play in keeping our immune system fit and fighting.

But it’s not simply a matter of taking a probiotic for a couple of weeks and crossing your fingers they’ll do the work for you.

So what can you do to ensure your child has a strong and healthy immune system so they can fight off these viruses and bugs?

The easiest and cheapest way to support your child’s immune system is in your kitchen!

Here are my top 12 immune boosting tips to help keep those coughs and colds at bay.

Broccoli

Broccoli is rich in antioxidants, calcium, vitamins C, K, B6 and folate. It is also high in fibre – food that our gut microbes love to eat! A diet rich in fibre helps to prevent constipation and maintain regular bowel movements.

Broccoli can be eaten raw or cooked. Try adding steamed broccoli to mashed potato, mixed with tomato passata for a veggie rich sauce to use with pasta or as a dipping sauce for chicken, meat or sausages or simply chopped into small florets and eaten raw as “baby trees”.

Eggs

Eggs are a perfect protein source because they contain all the essential amino acids our bodies need in the right amounts. They also contain vitamins D, A, E & B12 and are a good source of  Omega-3 fatty acids, choline and iron.

Eggs are an extremely versatile food and can be eaten fried, poached, boiled or scrambled, made into a frittata or omelette with a mix of veggies for a quick and tasty meal at any time of the day. For a delicious gut health immune boosting recipe, check out Quirky Cooking’s Russian Custard.

Dark Leafy Green Vegetables

Dark leafy green veggies including spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage are packed with essential immune boosting nutrients including vitamins A and C, calcium and fibre.

Not always the first choice for kids, but can be blended into smoothies (spinach/kale), fried with butter and bacon (Brussels sprouts/cabbage) or added to soups, stir fries or stews.

Here’s a delicious recipe for Cheesy Smashed Brussles Sprouts that my kids love!

Omega 3’s

We’ve all heard about the importance of Omega-3’s for children’s health. Not only are these fats essential for brain development, concentration, memory, good vision and heart health, but they also reduce inflammation which increases airflow and protects the lungs from respiratory infections.

Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include;

  • Oily fish including salmon, sardines & anchovies
  • White fish
  • Grass-fed meats
  • Nuts & seeds including walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, Brazil nuts, cashews & hazelnuts
  • Egg yolks
  • Natto

There are also Omega-3 supplements that are a great alternative if you find it hard to get your child to eat the foods above. I recommend the brand Nordic Naturals because of their exceptional standards and sustainable sourcing. They have a range of Omega-3 products to suit all ages and stages.

Brightly Coloured Fruit & Veg

Brightly coloured fruit & veg are packed with phytonutrients including beta-carotene, lutein, resveratrol and isoflavins. These nutrients work by enhancing our immune response, reducing inflammation and protecting us from free radical damage. Many also have antimicrobial properties.

Brightly coloured fruits & veggies are also full of vitamin C. Vitamin C strengthens and regulates the immune system with its antioxidant properties and it’s affect on immune cells. It is used up rapidly when the body is fighting off a bug, so it is essential to continue to replace it through our diet – especially when unwell.

The best way to ensure your child is getting plenty of vitamin C is to lightly steam their veggies or to eat them raw as other cooking methods destroy much of the vitamin C content.

Whole fruit and veggies also contain plenty of fibre that keep our good gut bugs healthy and healthy too.

Onions, leeks & garlic

Onion, leeks and garlic are all part of the Allium family and contain beneficial sulphur compounds that help to reduce inflammation and also have antimicrobial and antiviral properties and have even been shown to fight influenza A and B.

These foods can be strong in flavour, so by adding them to soups, broths and casseroles, they can be easily disguised.

*Bonus tip – when your child is up coughing all night, try leaving 1/2 an onion in a bowl in a corner of their bedroom to help them sleep – trust me, this works!

Avocado

Avocado is packed with healthy omega-3 fats that support good gut health. They are also high in vitamins C, E, K and B6. Vitamin B6 has been shown to increase white blood cells or “killer cells” when the body is under attack from  bacteria or a virus.

Avocado can be eaten mashed and spread onto toast, blended with some extra-virgin olive oil and used as a dip or just eaten as a tasty side dish sprinkled with a little sea salt.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are chock full of zinc. Zinc is an essential mineral and one of the most important nutrients for rapidly growing bodies. It’s involved in the healthy growth and development of children as it’s required for building new tissues. Zinc is also needed for the activity of more than 100 different enzymes in the body and plays a role in immune function, wound healing and maintaining a healthy appetite.

A simple way to serve pumpkin sides to the blend them up and add them to foods – this could be baking them into muffins or sprinkling them on top of porridge.

Easy to digest foods

If you are breastfeeding, offer breastmilk as much as possible while your little one recovers. Breastmilk will change to suit the needs of the infant, so its the perfect food to offer when fighting a bug. I believe the magic of mummy cuddles is also at work here…

There is a reason that chicken soup or broth is a popular old wive’s tale  – it works! Home made chicken broth has been shown to help reduce upper-respiratory inflammation and cold symptoms. It also helps to loosen congestion and support hydration. For a brilliant recipe, check out Alexx Stuart’s chicken broth. 

When your child is ready to eat a little more, slow cooked meats and steamed vegetables are a great, easy to digest meal that are full of nutrients to get them healing quickly. Here’s a great round-up of 20 Wholefood Slow Cooker recipes from Natural New Age Mum.

Water

Ok, so water isn’t technically a “food”, but it is essential! The lymphatic system is part of the immune system  that moves lymph fluid all around the body and is made up of approximately 95% water. This fluid contains white blood cells called lymphocytes that help fight infections. You may notice that the glands under your child’s neck swell up when they are unwell, these are the lymph nodes that act as filters for the fluid as it travels through the body.

As the weather starts to cool down, many kids stop drinking enough water and this can lead to dehydration. Being even a little dehydrated can affect how well your child’s immune system functions.

If your child doesn’t like water, you can also try herbal teas (non-caffeinated) and bone broths.

Rest

We’ve all seen those ads on TV that tell us to “Soldier On” when you have a cold or flu – just pop a pill and keep pushing through, but the healing power of rest can not be underestimated! I know that it can be a challenge to take time off work if your child is sick, but it is one of the best remedies that allows your child’s body to fight off illness and it also reduces the risk of spreading the sick child’s bugs around to other families.

Your child might perk up a but after a few hours of rest, then quickly go downhill again. Their body is working hard to fight off the bugs, and this in itself is pretty tiring. If possible, try to keep them resting to reserve their energy for the battle that’s going on inside them.

Keeping a child in bed or on the couch can be tricky, especially when they are starting to feel a little better. I recommend setting them up with a movie, some pillows, a blanket and their favourite teddies and make sure they have fresh filtered water handy to sip through the day.

Other quiet activities include;

  • reading with them
  • drawing or colouring
  • puzzels
  • play doh or lego
  • craft activities
Fresh air & sunshine

Up there with rest, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine is an excellent way to boost your child’s immune system. By interacting with dirt, kids are naturally exposed to a host of natural bacteria and pathogens that actually help strengthen the immune system. There is even evidence that regular play time in the dirt helps keep kids from developing allergies and asthma.

If your child has been unwell, sitting outside in the fresh air and sunshine can give their immune system a boost. It also helps to lower our stress response and generally makes us feel happier.

Gut health, gut health, gut health!

So as I’ve talked about, it’s normal for our kids to get sick from time to time, in fact, it helps to strengthen their immune system. But when you see that your child is starting to get run down and is catching all the bugs going around, or requiring antibiotics often for tonsillitis or ear infections, then starting with their gut health is the foundation to building up a healthy and robust immune system.

To help you to improve your family’s gut health, I have developed the “Gut Health for Kids” eCourse.

My free 7 day eCourse covers all the basics;

 

To register for the free Gut Health for Kids eCourse, click on the link below.

Gut Health for Kids eCourse

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