Supporting Your Family’s Immune System
How to stay healthy during cold and flu season
While you continue to take precautions to keep kids safe from COVID-19, you should know that we are 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 through getting the flu vaccine. But maintaining a healthy lifestyle through eating nutritious foods, exercising consistently and getting enough sleep will also boost your body’s ability to fight off infection. Integrate the following healthy choices into your family’s routine to ensure that you are prepared for the rest of the winter.
Keep your body functioning optimally with the following healthy eating tips.
We can strengthen our immune systems through eating nutritious foods.
“Vitamin C is one of them and is found in various fruits and vegetables,” says Emma Donnelly, the early intervention nutrition coordinator at Family Food Corporate Wellness Nutrition. This organization provides nutrition counseling in the Philadelphia area. “Parents can get their children involved with prepping a fruit salad with berries and melons or make veggies fun by using small cutters to cut stars and hearts out of bell peppers.”
Zinc is an additional nutrient that helps to build immunity. “Zinc can be found in animal sources such as beef and seafood in addition to plant foods such as beans and tofu,” Donnelly says. “Try offering meatballs or serve beans in a quesadilla.”
A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for a strong immune system, something that foods with probiotics, which are live, beneficial bacteria, can support.
“In addition to the nutrients and foods mentioned above, probiotics can also help to support a healthy immune system,” Donnelly says. “Parents and kids can get probiotics through yogurt and fermented foods, such as kefir or kimchi.”
Probiotics can help after symptoms come on.
“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.”
Spending time outside
Spending time outside offers multiple health benefits which will support your immune system.
“Vitamin D is another important nutrient for a healthy immune system. It is primarily obtained through sunlight but can be consumed in milk or a vitamin D–fortified milk alternative,” Donnelly says.
Getting regular exercise, even during cold winter weather, is also important.
“In addition to ensuring adequate nutrition, it is also important to make sure everyone in the family is getting proper sleep and staying active,” Donnelly says.
Managing stress and COVID-19
This year has been a particularly hard year for families adjusting to returning to work and school and dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our immune systems can be weakened from stress, so it’s important that parents and kids relax and get help when they need it.
“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.”
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 develops symptoms that resemble COVID, you will likely have to stay home from activities and get tested more often.
Stay healthy and let’s get through cold and flu season together.
This piece first appeared in the December 2021 issue of MetroKids.