While you continue to take precautions to keep your kids safe from COVID-19, you also should know that we’re in the midst of cold and flu season. Parents and kids can take simple, everyday steps to support their immune systems at this time of year.
The most effective way to strengthen immunity is by getting the flu vaccine. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle through eating nutritious foods, exercising consistently and getting enough sleep will also boost your ability to fight off infection. Integrate the following healthy choices into your family’s routine to ensure you all are prepared for the rest of winter.
Keep your body functioning optimally with the following healthy eating tips.
A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for a strong immune system, something that foods with probiotics—live, beneficial bacteria—can support.
“Fermented foods can add probiotics, which take up space in our digestive systems so the ‘bad bugs’ don’t have much room to grow,” says Isabel Maples, a Washington, D.C.–based national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Probiotics can help after symptoms arise.
“At the first sign of stomach upset such as diarrhea or constipation, I recommend a high-quality probiotic that has several strains of healthy gut bacteria,” says Jana Burton, CEO and founder of Healthy Home Pediatrics, a house call and telemedicine practice providing primary care and lactation services to children and young adults in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. “I recommend getting probiotics through food sources such as breast milk for infants and yogurt for older children.”
While kids tend to like fruit, they often won’t naturally ask for it. Maples recommends having kids help select new fruits at the store and pair berries and melons with other foods such as yogurt or cereal.
“Add a variety of fruits to get the ‘rainbow.’ Different colored fruits and vegetables add different vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients,” Maples says.
To make vegetables more appealing to children, Maples recommends winter squash and sweet potatoes for their natural sweetness.
You can also serve vegetables with tasty dips. “Add a yogurt- or cheese-based dip with broccoli,” Maples says.
Proteins can help support the immune system. Many foods are packed with protein including:
• Dairy: milk, cheese and yogurt.
• Meats: beef, pork and lamb.
• Poultry: turkey and chicken.
• Fish: shellfish and fish.
• Nuts and seeds.
• Beans, peas and lentils.
• Tofu and soy beverages.
Maples also recommends salmon as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids “that support our immune system and help little brains work better.”
Kids might enjoy salmon grilled or broiled with marinades or dips like brown sugar or a mustard sauce.
“Start with some flavors that your child likes,” Maples says.
“Use snacks as a time to get in more of the foods Americans don’t eat enough of, like fruits and veggies, dairy foods and whole grains,” Maples says. “Twenty-five percent of our calories come from snacks, so let them count, nutrition wise, too.”
This year has been particularly hard for families adjusting to returning to work and school and dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Immune systems can weaken from stress, so it’s important that parents get help when they can.
“Make sure to support each other and seek help when needed,” Burton says. “I encourage families to get help with child care, laundry and cooking when they can.”
Spending time outside
Families can find fun outlets for stress to participate in together while also getting fresh air.
“Consider physical activity as a way to manage stress,” Maples says. “Get the kids out to play, and you go with them too to the park, for a hike, for a walk around the block, for a bike ride, snow tubing, etc.”
A final word on COVID-19 …
Taking these small steps to further strengthen your immune systems will help ensure that your family’s year will not be more disrupted than it already has been. If you or your child has developed symptoms that resemble COVID, you will likely have to stay home from activities and get tested more often.
“I have been doing countless COVID tests on children and their parents because our leading guidelines say that if you have a new cough or sore throat, it’s best to test,” Burton says.
Stay healthy and let’s get through this cold and flu season together.