Immunity is the body’s ability to fight infections and diseases. The body attains this ability from proper immune system functioning. Children are born with innate immunity, whereas they continually develop adaptive or acquired immunity during life.
You can support your child’s immunity development by feeding them a well-balanced diet rich in immunity-boosting foods from a young age. Read on to know about different immunity-boosting foods, some delicious recipes you can make with them, and a few lifestyle habits that can boost your child’s immunity.
Seven Immunity-Boosting Foods For Children
The consumption of various nutrient-rich foods as a part of a well-balanced diet can make the immune system robust over time. It is why developing healthy eating practices from an early age is strongly advised.
Here is the list of some immunity-boosting foods that you can add to your child’s daily diet.
Eating various fresh, seasonal fruits every day is a good way to up your child’s immunity. The dietary guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommend children eat one to two cups of fruits based on their total calorie intake (1). While you pick fresh fruits for your child, focus on various colors. The more the color in the food, the richer its phytochemicals or phytonutrients content, which can boost immunity (2).
Purple or blue-colored fruits, such as blueberries, are rich in anthocyanins that combat free radical damage and promote heart health. Green fruits, such as kiwi, contain anti-cancer compounds, such as sulforaphane and isocyanate (3). Additionally, fruits contain several vitamins and minerals that help strengthen the immune system over time.
Eating various colorful, seasonal, and fresh vegetables can contribute to building your child’s immunity. Depending on their age and physical activity, children are recommended to eat one to three cups of vegetables per day (4).
Some of the immunity-boosting vegetables you can include in your child’s diet are mushrooms, spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, tomato, and parsnip. All these veggies are also rich in nutrients, such as vitamin A, C, B, and K, contributing to a robust immunity.
3. High-protein foods
Proteins are the building blocks of life. Apart from cells’ repair and regeneration, they help produce antibodies necessary for a proper immune system functioning. Lean meat, low-fat dairy products, whole pulses, seafood, eggs, beans, lentils, and sprouts are some protein-rich foods. They also contain vital vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and zinc, strengthening long-term immunity. Ensure to add one protein-rich food in every meal.
4. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds offer significant amounts of protein, vitamins (vitamin B3, B6, E, and folate), minerals (magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium), dietary fiber, and omega-3 fats (5). Additionally, they contain bioactive compounds, such as flavonoids, that boost one’s immunity (6) (7).
Some of the nuts and seeds you can add to soups, smoothies, milkshakes, and homemade ice creams are almonds, cashews, pistachios, flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin, and hemp seeds.
5. Dried fruits
Dried fruits are shrunken fruits that have been dehydrated to extend fruits’ shelf-life. Dates, figs, raisins, and apricots are some commonly available dry fruits that you can add to your child’s different meals.
Experts recommend children have a handful of mixed dry fruits for optimum benefits. Research shows that dried fruits contain micronutrients and bioactive compounds that can boost overall health over time (8).
Probiotics are healthy, live bacteria and yeast which can impart health benefits. These microorganisms inhabit the human gut, so their regular consumption may positively affect your child’s immune and overall health (9) (10).
You need not provide probiotics to your child through supplements. Instead, you can include healthy natural probiotic foods, such as kefir, yogurt, miso, tempeh, idli, and buttermilk, in their daily diet.
7. Herbs and spices
Turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, and black cumin are some herbs and spices that could boost long-term immunity (11). You can add these herbs and spices to flavor foods, such as soups and curries. Several herbal preparations are marketed as immunity boosters. Their use for children isn’t necessary. However, if you wish to use them, do so under an alternative medicine expert’s guidance.
Besides these foods, whole grains are foods rich in dietary fiber, which acts as prebiotics. Also, they contain numerous vitamins, minerals, and some phytochemicals, suggesting their immunity-building potential in the long run.
Five Delicious And Healthy Recipes To Boost Immunity
Here are some easy-to-prepare, healthy, and nutrient-dense recipes that can contribute to your child’s immunity when consumed as a part of a well-balanced diet.
1. Veggie soups
You will need:
- 1 sweet potato (diced into cubes)
- 1 cup canned chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
- 1 cup red lentils
- ½ cup kale (stem removed and cut into pieces)
- 5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 yellow onion (diced)
- 6 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp ginger (grated)
- ½ tsp paprika
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- 1tbsp olive oil
- Salt and black pepper powder, to taste
How to prepare:
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch pan over medium heat for one minute.
- As the oil warms, add chopped onions and cook them for around seven to eight minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Next, add garlic and ginger and continue to cook for one minute until ginger and garlic’s raw aroma fades.
- Stir in the turmeric, salt, black pepper, and paprika. Cook the mixture for one minute.
- Add sweet potatoes, kale, chickpeas, red lentils, and vegetable broth, and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Once the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the sweet potato softens.
- Turn off the heat and transfer soup to serving bowls. Serve hot with a lightly toasted garlic baguette.
2. Fruit and veggie salad
You will need:
- 2 cups fresh Brussels sprouts (shaved)
- 1 cup avocado (peeled, cored, and diced)
- 1 navel orange (peeled and separated)
- ½ cup pomegranate arils
- 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 2tbsp shallot (chopped)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper powder
How to prepare:
- Put oranges in a salad bowl and press some of them using a fork or spoon to release their juice.
- Add pomegranate arils, olive oil, shallot, salt, pepper, and mix well.
- Add Brussels sprouts and avocado to the mixture and toss well to ensure everything is mixed well.
3. Breakfast smoothie bowl
You will need:
- 1 cup frozen mixed berries
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup papaya (sliced)
- ¼ cup coconut shreds
- ¼ cup pomegranate arils
- ¼ cup banana (roughly mashed)
- 1 fresh banana (sliced)
- ½ kiwi (sliced)
- 2tbsp peanut butter
- 1tbsp poppy seeds
- 1tbsp pumpkin seeds (chopped)
How to prepare:
- Blend mixed berries, banana mash, peanut butter, and water into a smooth, creamy mixture using a blender. Blend everything well until thick and creamy.
- Pour the mixture into a serving bowl and top with papaya slices, coconut shreds, pomegranate arils, banana slices, and kiwi slices.
- Sprinkle over poppy and pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.
4. Seeds and nuts granola
You will need:
- 1 cup rolled oats (toasted)
- 1 cup dates (pitted)
- ½ cup raw almonds, walnuts, and pecans (roughly chopped)
- ¼ cup salted peanut butter
- ¼ cup honey
- 2tbsp chia seeds
- 2tbsp hemp seeds
- 2tbsp sunflower seeds (roasted)
- 2tbsp flax seeds (ground)
How to prepare:
- Blend dates in a food processor such that you get a slightly mushy paste.
- Add oats, almonds, dates, and the paste into a large mixing bowl and mix well.
- Add seeds, honey, and peanut, and mix well using a spoon.
- Ensure everything is well-combined, and then pour the mixture into a rectangular baking dish lined with parchment paper.
- Cover the baking dish with parchment or plastic wrap and flatten the mixture using a small rolling pin.
- Put the dish into the refrigerator or freezer for 15 to 20 minutes until the mixture hardens.
- After 20 minutes, cut the mixture into two-inch-thick bars and serve a couple with a cup of warm milk as a healthy after-school snack.
- Store the remaining bars in an airtight container for up to a week.
5. Tropical green smoothie drink
You will need:
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
- 1 cup unsweetened Greek Yogurt or coconut milk
- 1 banana (sliced)
- 1tsp fresh ginger (grated)
- 1 cup frozen mango
- 1 cup frozen pineapple
- 1 handful fresh baby spinach
How to make:
- Blend all the ingredients into a smooth-flowing drink using a food processor or blender. Ensure no lumps are present.
- Serve this hearty drink to your child at midday or with a sandwich in the morning.
These and several other wholesome dishes can offer a plethora of nutrients, fiber, and phytonutrients that can maintain and boost your child’s immunity over time. However, to reap that benefit, a few healthy lifestyle practices also count along.
Tips For Boosting Immunity In Children
Boosting immunity is a broad term that involves several things along with healthy eating. Here are some additional tips for maintaining the optimal immunity of your child.
- Motivate your child to stay active. Research suggests that regular to high-intensity exercise could help improve the immune system’s functions (12). Besides, an active lifestyle helps maintain a healthy weight necessary to avert lifestyle-related diseases and ailments.
- Ensure they are sleeping sound. Studies show that high-quality sleep promotes healthy immune system functioning (13). Children between three and five years need ten to 13 hours of sleep, while children between the ages of six and 12 years require nine to 12 hours of sleep for optimal health (14).
- Teach them ways to manage stress. Introducing them to constructive coping skills, such as talking their heart out, could help them manage stress better. Research shows that chronic stress, depression, and anxious mood suppress the immune response (15).
- Motivate them to maintain personal hygiene. Brushing and flossing teeth twice a day, bathing daily, and washing hands before and after eating are some of the personal hygiene habits that can help avoid infection-causing germs (16).
- Limit screen time. Instead, encourage your child to spend time close to nature in the sun. It is a good way to boost your child’s immunity by promoting vitamin D production. Additionally, sunlight exposure triggers endorphin production (happy hormones), helpful in fighting stress and promoting good sleep, both prerequisites to boost immunity.
Immunity is a vital attribute to live a healthy life. You can strengthen your child’s immunity by adopting healthy lifestyle practices, such as eating a well-balanced diet, staying physically active, sleeping soundly, and being stress-free. Encourage your child and family to follow these practices religiously and stay healthy by eating various immunity-boosting foods.
2. Fill up on phytochemicals; Harvard Health Publishing
3. Phytonutrients: Paint your plate with the colors of the rainbow; Harvard Health Publishing
4. Children eating more fruit, but fruit and vegetable intake still too low; CDC
5. Nuts and seeds; Victoria State Government
6. Quick-start guide to nuts and seeds; Harvard Health Publishing
7. Yang et al.; Bioactive components in edible nuts and health benefits; Researchgate
8. Sui Kiat Chang et al.; Review of dried fruits: Phytochemicals, antioxidant efficacies, and health benefits; Science Direct
9. Probiotics: What You Need To Know; NIH
10. Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You; Academy Of Nutrition And Dietetics
11. Nutrition And Immune Health; Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
12. Brian W Timmons; Paediatric exercise immunology: health and clinical applications; NCBI
13. How Sleep Affects Immunity; Sleep Foundation
14. AAP Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines; AAP
15. Stress and the immune system; WHO
16. Personal hygiene; Government of Australia
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