With children back at school and the weather getting cooler, cold and flu season is here again, and this year we have the added worry of coronavirus.

But it’s important to remember that there are ways to support our children’s immunity, as well as things that leave the immune system depleted. A healthy diet and lifestyle is really the best ammunition we can give our children to fight off the bugs and germs that surround them at school.

How can we support our kids immune systems?

1. Make sleep a priority

Sleep is so important for our children as this is the time when their bodies are growing, repairing and healing. If children don’t get enough sleep then it can lower their immunity and ability to fight off bugs.

Most school-aged children need a solid 9 — 11 hours of sleep each night. Turning off screens and blue lights a couple of hours before bed will help children to fall asleep, and our ‘eat well, sleep well’ article has tips on foods that will help children to get a good nights sleep.

2. Eat lots of vitamins and Minerals

Our immune systems need vitamins A, C, D and E, and the minerals zinc, iron and selenium to work at their best.

Aim to give your children a rainbow of colourful fruit and veggies during the day, including some leafy greens and cruciferous veg, to ensure they get a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Colourful fruit and veg are packed full of immune-boosting nutrients. 2 servings of fruit and 5 servings of veggies a day will provide a good amount of these nutrients.

Add garlic, onions, ginger and other spices like turmeric to as many meals as possible – they are full of antimicrobial properties.

Top fruit + veggies: kiwi, citrus fruits, papaya, red peppers, broccoli, spinach, sweet potato, butternut squash, mushrooms, cauliflower, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric.

3. Have protein with each meal

Proteins are the building blocks of our bodies, including for our immune system. Lean, organic animal protein and plant-based proteins are all good, and important to include with all snacks and meals. Choose good quality protein like organic chicken, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.

4. look after Gut health

Around 70% of our immune system is in our guts. Therefore supporting our kids gut health is super important – it is a major barrier against pathogens and integral to the immune system. There are lots of studies showing the importance of gut microbes and the benefits of including fermented and prebiotic foods in our kids’ diets. Try kefir yoghurt, water kefir, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.

5. Top up with Essential Fats

Omega-3 fats are important for supporting the anti-inflammatory pathways in our bodies, and studies have shown the importance of the role of omega-3 fatty acids in the functioning of the immune system cells. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish, nuts and seeds.

6. Stay hydrated, especially with warm drinks and soups

Water is super important for health, energy and the immune system – drinking enough fluids supports all of your bodies’ functions. Make a batch of soup and broth and have them regularly throughout the week. Try warm drinks like this healthy hot chocolate, a turmeric or chai milk drink, and herbal teas, sweetened with a little honey – berry teas are often a hit with kids. Keep a bottle of water with you and encourage your children to drink it throughout the day. Smoothies are a great way to keep kids hydrated and you can pack them with lots of nutritious fruit and veg.

Avoid fruit juices, squash and sweetened drinks as the sugar content is detrimental to the immune system.

7. Get Fresh air and exercise

Mild exercise helps to boost the immune system. Aim for an hour each day outside walking or bike riding.

Studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are much more likely to pick up a cold or the flu. Try to get outside whenever the sun is shining and get some sunshine on your face and skin. In the winter in England, it’s hard to get a good amount of vitamin d from sunshine alone so consider supplementing.

8. Keep sugar to a minimum

In fact, it’s really best to avoid processed foods, trans fats and hydrogenated fats as well as refined flours and sugar, as they have all been shown to deplete the immune system and decrease immune response to viruses and germs.

8. keep things calm

Stress can have a huge impact on our immunity; when we are under stress, our immune function is greatly impaired. Pairing back your child’s schedule and prioritising lots of time for rest can help to keep stresses at bay.

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Cannell, J., Vieth, R.; Umhau, J., et al. 2006. Epidemic influenza and vitamin D. Epidemiology and Infection. 134 (6): 1129.

Gutiérrez, S.; Svahn, S.L.; Johansson, M.E. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2019, 20, 5028.

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