the 3 most important things to know about immune health for babies and toddlers

It’s that time of the year again! Colds are inevitable, especially for school-aged children. All three of my kids were hit by a cold before the school year even began! Although there is no sure way to prevent a cold or flu, there are a few key things we can do in order to boost our little one’s immune health and lessen the severity and duration of illness. Here are the three most important things you need to know heading into cold and flu season.

  • Proper Handwashing. Proper handwashing is one of the most important steps in preventing the transmission of colds and flus. It’s important to teach toddlers and school-aged children how to properly wash their hands and make sure they are washing prior to eating (most snacks and school lunches are consumed with hands)! 
  • Balanced Plates: Serving a healthy balance of foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich foods is a first line of defence for the immune system. This way, they’re exposed to important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants required to keep your immune system in tip top shape (even if they don’t eat everything on their plate). A lot of the best nutrients are found in colourful fruits and veggies. Aim for five or more different colours a day to ensure you are consuming a variety of nutrients. I always suggest serving four to five different foods during a meal and two to three during snack time to ensure lots of nutrient variety. 
  • Immune-Boosting Foods and Nutrients: The vitamin we most often hear about during cold and flu season is Vitamin C. This is because it has been shown to help reduce the severity and duration of a common cold. In general, getting enough (or even extra) vitamin C when a cold has hit works best for those who start out with a mild deficiency. Foods like oranges, red peppers, and strawberries are high in Vitamin C. Other important immune boosting vitamins and minerals include Vitamins A and B, Zinc, and Selenium.

Fortunately, there are certain foods containing immune-boosting properties that can help to ward off cold and flu, or lessen the duration or severity of them. As a bonus, they’re all packed full of nutrients, that help with proper growth and development, and keeping your kids healthy! Check out my top five foods to help boost your child’s immune system listed below.

  • GARLIC: Don’t be shy when you add garlic to your meals, especially around this time of year. It’s an immune-boosting superstar! The sulphur-containing compounds found in garlic, such as Allicin, help healthy infection-fighting white blood cells flourish, and also increase the efficiency of their antibody production, which helps them fight harmful viruses and bacteria. Adding garlic to baby’s food right from six months is totally fine and naturally adds flavor.

  • ALMONDS: Not only are almonds a nutritional powerhouse full of protein, fibre, potassium, healthy fat and more, but they also contain nutrients like Niacin and Riboflavin;B-Vitamins that may help ward off the negative effects of stress (kids get stressed too!) by boosting the immune system. Just one-quarter cup of these tasty nuts contains your child’s daily requirements for Vitamin E (and more), an antioxidant that also protects the immune system. Be careful though - almonds can be a choking hazard, so make sure to serve your babies or toddlers slivered or sliced almonds, or natural almond butter.

  • OILY FISH: Another immune boosting nutrient is the polyunsaturated fatty acid known as omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids help boost our kids’ immune system by promoting the activity of phagocytes (white blood cells) which fight against harmful bacteria. They also contain anti-inflammatory properties which may help in reducing inflammation in the lungs resulting in fewer infections and colds. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish such as salmon, trout and tuna. Aim for two to three servings per week in order to maintain immune health. Our kids’ brain power will also benefit from omega-3’s as they help to maintain memory, focus and concentration.

  • CHICKEN SOUP: Yep, Grandma was right — chicken soup actually does help to relieve colds and flu! It can help in two different ways: First, it has anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit the circulation of neutrophils — cells that participate in the body’s inflammatory response. Second it temporarily helps to flush mucus out, possibly helping to alleviate congestion and decreasing the amount of time that viruses are in contact with the nasal lining. Watch the salt for babies and toddlers though – choose a low-sodium/sodium-free stock.

  • MUSHROOMS: Mushrooms may be dismissed as a less-than-stellar vegetable when it comes to health, but don’t let its bland colour fool you—mushrooms are jam-packed full of good nutrition and immune-boosting qualities. Mushrooms have shown both antiviral and antibacterial qualities, and also contain the mineral Selenium, as well as antioxidants, which can help to decrease your child’s risk of getting sick.

  • YAMS AND SWEET POTATOES: Yams and sweet potatoes are not only extremely nutritious, but also a very important immune-boosting food. Yams contain Beta-Carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in skin health—skin being our first line of defense from bacteria, viruses, and germs that cause illnesses. Try baking them as “fries” with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper – my kids love them (with a bit of ketchup of course). Try our Sweet Potato Pie puree and our Sweet Potato Berry Swirl!

  • OATS AND BARLEY: Oats and barley are high in soluble fibre, specifically one called beta-glucan. This type of fibre has antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities, which help your immune system protect you from influenza and other illnesses. Soluble fibre also decreases inflammation, which helps us heal faster from an infection. My go-to breakfast is oatmeal – I usually make a big batch of large flake oats in the morning and add things like milk, yogurt, fruit and slivered nuts. For babies, try Baby Gourmet’s lineup of oatmeal infant cereals.

  • YOGURT or OTHER PROBIOTIC-CONTAINING FOODS (LIKE PUFFIES): You’ve likely heard that the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) found in yogurt helps to maintain a healthy digestive tract, right? Well, there has been some promising research showing that those same probiotics may help to prevent colds and flu, as well. This is good news for me, because I love yogurt and so do my kids! Some strains of probiotics may help to boost the immune response and decrease inflammation, which could mean fewer colds and flu! Another great source of probiotics are Baby Gourmet’s Puffies snacks, which are little snacks geared towards self-feeders (made with quinoa!). I wish this product was around when my older kids were little. Not only are they a great practice food for self-feeders, but they’re packed with a whopping 1 billion probiotics per serving!

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