The child’s diet is the number one concern for most parents. I get asked about, how to boost immunity in toddlers, and immune boosting foods for kids, quite often as a mommy blogger. And since I write about healthy meals for kids, this is known territory for me.
Food plays an important role in maintaining good health. We all know good food equals good health. But how can we help our little children with varying appetites, fussy eating problems and get them to eat a good quality diet in the right quantities that helps maintain strong immunity?
In my blog post tackling common toddler eating problems, you will find tips on how to overcome fussy eating with a consistent routine and modification to your approach to food and eating.
In this post, I will talk about 10 immune boosting foods for kids.
If you follow me on Instagram where I post regularly about healthy toddler food ideas, you will see that I include each of these foods in our daily diet at home.
Regardless of how well our son eats, these foods are always on the plate. A diet centered around these foods is known to maintain a strong immunity and keep most illnesses at bay. That’s why I call them my mommy arsenal against diseases.
But wait, before we start,
WHAT ARE IMMUNITY BOOSTING FOODS?
To understand why we include the following foods in our arsenal against illness and disease we need to first understand what happens inside the body when infectious disease-causing bacteria or viruses gain entry.
Our body has a natural defense mechanism that includes fighter cells like the WBC’s and antibodies which are the bodies first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria and viruses. These cells neutralize any threat to the body.
Certain foods in conjunction with factors like good rest, Vit D and low-stress help keep the body in a balanced and healthy state ready to take on any invasion by infectious bacteria or viruses.
These foods contain immune system supporting compounds like antioxidants, certain key minerals and vitamins like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, Vit A and Vit C for example that keep the body nourished and ready to take on any pathogens.
It is well known that malnourished persons are most vulnerable to disease-causing pathogens.
Poor nutrition in childhood causes frequent illnesses. Including the below-listed foods is the first step towards building your child’s immune system and ward off infectious illnesses.
10 Power-Packed Immune Boosting Foods For Kids
Vegetables have a high antioxidant level that prevents inflammation in the body. The darker the vegetable the more antioxidant-rich it is. Vegetables like green leafy’s are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, containing important vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy are rich sources of vitamins C, E, and K. They contain compounds that are anti-cancer and cardioprotective in nature.
These nutrient-dense foods when consumed regularly not only keep the body’s immunity strong, they also protect against various diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancer. Encouraging the love for vegetables when children are young is like gifting them with life insurance.
For an average toddler, you should aim for 2-3 servings of vegetables a day.
How to offer: Vegetarian sides, vegetable soups, stews, roasted vegetables, vegetable curries, vegetable stuffed parathas.
Next up is fruits of course. If your kids don’t like vegetables but eat fruit, don’t worry too much, offer fruit instead. Most of the nutritional benefits are the same between fruits and vegetables. Offer fruits in all the colors of the rainbow, making sure to include seasonal fruit varieties. These come with the right amount of nutrients that are suited to the weather at that time of the year and provide natural immunity against illnesses.
The Vit C in fruits helps guard against the common cold and other illnesses. The phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals paired with fiber is what makes fruits and vegetables health foods with immune protective properties.
How to offer: Cut up into appropriately sized pieces in a fruit platter, fruit smoothies, nice creams, popsicles, fruit skewers.
The health benefits of turmeric are world-renowned. Turmeric is now recognized as the superfood with cancer-fighting properties.
Luckily for us, Indian food has incorporated this immune boosting food for eons. In fact, I am sure most of us grew up drinking turmeric milk every morning as a part of the Indian breakfast meal.
Turmeric or Haldi contains a compound called curcumin, that is known for its anti-inflammatory properties that help boost immunity.
Curcumin’s reported beneficial effects in arthritis, allergy, asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer might be due in part to its ability to modulate the immune system. Some researchers now believe in using this compound as immune therapy for certain immune disorders. (source)
If you are wondering how to eat turmeric, then the answer is to eat it in the whole form, as root or in ground powder form where its own natural oils help the body to absorb the curcumin best.
Pepper, when combined with turmeric, is also found to be the best combination to boost the absorption of the curcumin.
How to offer: Added in stews, curries, rice dishes, added to a glass of cows milk with saffron and dry fruits powder.
Mushrooms are very good at immune modulation and various studies have elucidated how adept mushrooms are as antitumor agents. (source)
In fact, mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicine for a long time, it is only now that the world is becoming more aware of the benefits of consuming mushrooms.
Mushrooms contain Vit D which makes it an important immunity boosting food. Increasing mushroom intake definitely helps maintain a healthy body. To know more about the superfood benefits of mushrooms, read my blog post on vegan superfoods for kids.
How to offer: Stir fry, sauteed mushrooms, in vegetarian stews, curries, and rice dishes.
Lentils are powerhouse foods containing B vitamins, folate, zinc, and magnesium. They provide protein and a good amount of fiber needed by the growing body. Lentils are also a good source of iron which is an important mineral during childhood.
The beautiful thing about lentils is that they contain certain polyphenolic compounds and phytochemicals that are known to be immune boosting, neuroprotective, and anti-inflammation.
The polyphenols in lentils do not lose their health benefits on cooking, which is great because you need to cook lentils thoroughly in order to be able to digest them properly. (source) Here are some lentil recipes for toddlers.
How to offer: Lentil curry, Dal, Lentil patty, Sambhar, lentil bolognese.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-nausea and immune boosting power. The protective effects of ginger are well known in traditional medicine.
Raw ginger can be a little spicy for kids to handle so hiding it in small quantities in vegetarian dishes or making a drink sweetened with honey can help.
Ginger is a great food to increase immunity against cold and cough. In winters, I make basil and ginger tea – Add 1/2 inch stalk of ginger, 3-4 basil leaves in 2 cups of water. Bring water to boil. Now remove the basil leaves and ginger. Add a little honey to this tea and offer toddlers as a drink in their sippy cup. Be careful to offer this tea lukewarm.
How to offer: Ginger can be added in curries, stews, and green juices.
Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips, yams, taro, kohlrabi, celeriac, offer a variety of nutrient-rich ingredients that support good health.
Even turmeric, garlic, and ginger are root vegetables, but I don’t include them here as we use them more like spices and flavoring ingredients.
Since root vegetables grow in the soil, they absorb a lot of nutrients from the soil. Root vegetables provide much-needed fiber, vitamin C and a variety of antioxidants that provide with protective action against diseases and illness.
Winters are known to be cold and flu season. And if you look at what is naturally available in season at this time of the year you will find many of these root vegetables in the markets. Nature has perfectly designed the foods we need to eat each season to maintain good health and disease resistance.
How to offer: In stews, boiled with a little salt and pepper, or roasted root vegetables.
Millets are tiny seeded grass that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are classified as superfoods by some for their ability to protect against cardiovascular ailments, cancers, and nutrient deficit problems.
Millets are easy to digest and some like ragi, bajra, jowar are a great addition to a growing child’s diet. To know more about the benefits of millets read my post on Millets for babies. I also included two baby-friendly recipes in that post.
How to offer: Millet based soups, pancakes, porridge, dosas, and idlis.
If there is one advice by my grandfather that I remember to this day, it was his, “Eat a handful of nuts everyday” advice. He strictly followed his own advice and ate a handful of mixed nuts including almonds, pistachios, cashews, and walnuts daily.
Nuts are a powerhouse of vitamins, and minerals beneficial to health. Not just vitamins and minerals, they provide protein, omega 3’s, and healthy fats. What’s not to like?
Nuts contain Vit E which with its high antioxidant properties helps keep cells healthy and protects against disease.
Adding nuts to a child’s diet is a great way to reduce overall saturated fat content in daily diet and substitute it with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Not only are you providing immune protective foods but also helping maintain a healthy weight on the baby.
Here is a detailed post on healthy fats for kids.
How to offer: Add nuts to smoothies, nut powder to parathas or porridge, include nut butter in the child’s diet, nut butter on toast, or with pancakes, make energy balls with nuts and dates.
Eggs contain many healthy vitamins and minerals like Vit A, Vit B 12, Vit D, Vit E, zinc, selenium, iron, choline, iodine, lutein and zeaxanthin and omega 3 fatty acids.
The lutein and zeaxanthin especially are eye protective in nature.
All these vitamins and minerals are important to support good health and boost the immune system.
How to offer: Scrambled eggs, omelets, egg muffins, egg sandwiches, and boiled eggs.
OTHER FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO GOOD HEALTH AND STRONG IMMUNITY IN KIDS
- Vit D: Vit D has an important role to play in immune modulation. A deficiency in Vit D is known to increase susceptibility to infections and increases the risk of autoimmune diseases. Which means a good amount of time should be spent playing outside. At the same time choose timings of the day when the sun does not burn the skin, for example, early mornings and early evenings.
- Good sleep: Low-stress levels and good sleep both contribute to better immune function.
- Avoid sugar: Excessive sugar intake suppresses the immune system. Sugar is found in so many foods besides chocolates and sweets. Foods like sauces, ketchup, fruit juice, packaged snacks for kids all contain sugar. A diet high in sugar puts stress on the immune system and causes regular illness. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting sugar for kids above 2 years of age at 25 gms or 6 teaspoons a day. To understand how sugar is leading to a rise in children’s obesity in India read my post detailing the harmful side-effects of sugars and hidden sugars in foods.
I hope this post helps you design a healthy meal plan for your toddler. One that supports growth, development and also protects your little one from unnecessary illnesses.
Which foods do you rely on to boost immunity in your kids? Leave me a comment below.