Boosting Your Young Child’s Immune Health with Diet

Sharon Palmer

Sparing our little ones from illness would be every parent’s dream, but shy of keeping them in a germ-free bubble, it’s just not possible. Colds, viruses, and infections and all of their unpleasant symptoms—blocked nose, fever, sore throat, tummy aches to name a few—are especially challenging for children who are still so innocent to their effects. But, there is plenty we parents can do to help rev up their maturing immune systems, like filling their plates with nutrient-dense foods, especially those high in vitamins C, D, E, zinc, and probiotics, which will help strengthen their bodies’ natural ability to fight disease now and as they grow.

Babies come into this world with an immature immune system that gets its first infection-fighting antibodies from mother’s milk. This resistance grows along with the child until it reaches maturity in the early teen years. As they grow, they are exposed to more germs and bugs (especially in those first years of school), and this is how their immune systems learn to fight them. But, little bodies can’t fight nearly as effectively without nutrient-dense fuel!

Good nutrition is an important way to build and maintain a healthy immune system. Research shows there is a diet-immunity connection, which means that essential nutrients—vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids—fuel the cells in the immune system that fight disease-carrying organisms. The gut is where 25% of those immune cells, which provide 50% of the body’s immune response, live—housing more than 500 species of bacteria. Feeding the gut with probiotics—live microorganisms with health benefits—can potentially lead to immune benefits. A number of studies are showing that live bacteria and yeasts found in foods like yogurt and fermented foods can help keep children healthy. Several studies have shown that children in preschools and day care centers don’t get sick as often or as severely when they consume probiotics.

Offer your toddler a variety of vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus, strawberries, broccoli, and red peppers.

Vitamin C. This vitamin plays an important role in immune function, helping protect the body from disease. Offer a rainbow of fruits—from oranges and strawberries to kiwi and blueberries—and veggies like broccoli, tomatoes, red peppers, and potatoes. Serve up their favorites, but be sure to regularly introduce something new. There are also many wonderfully clever and delicious ways to encourage children to get their daily vitamin C. Sprout Organic’s line of Fruit & Veggie Blends are an excellent option. Made with whole, organic ingredients, there are several vitamin C-rich blends, like Pear Kiwi Peas Spinach, Strawberry Pear Banana, and Apple Blueberry. They’re not only nutritious, they’re convenient for parents and fun for kids!

Vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin—the body makes its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight—may have important functions with the immune system as well. Take advantage of sunny days and let the tiny tots play outdoors whenever possible. Natural food sources, like salmon, tuna, and sardines may not be a toddler’s first choice, but there are many child-friendly vitamin D-fortified foods, such as fortified milk or plant milk, orange juice, and cereals.

Kids Berry Oat Tahini Bars

Zinc. You’ll find this important mineral in lots of kid-friendly sources like nuts, whole grains, beans, and fortified cereals. Zinc helps little ones’ immunity by increasing the number of infection-fighting white blood cells and T-cells. Studies show that zinc can not only lessen occurrences of infection, but may even shorten the duration of a cold. Wow them with my Kids Berry Oat Tahini Bars, for a blast of zinc from tahini (sesame seed butter), oats, whole wheat, flax seeds, and an extra boost from two pouches of Sprout Organic Mixed Berry Oatmeal Baby and Toddler Food.

In hand or stirred into yogurt, toddlers love Sprout Organic Fruit & Veggie Blends.

Probiotics. These live microorganisms have been shown to improve the number of good bacteria in the gut, and certain strains increase the immune response. Lactobacillus in yogurt is one of these good strains that can help the body resist colds and other infections. There are lots of yogurts out there, so be careful to read the label. Look for live active yogurt cultures and minimal added sugars. Bring plain yogurt home and mix in your own fruit and veg puree, like Sprout Organic Apricot Peach Pumpkin for a sweet snack or dip, or go savory with mild kid-friendly spices or even a nut butter or pesto as a sauce or dip for cut veggies or whole grain crackers.

Kids PB&J Bars

Vitamin E. A key player in reducing the risk of upper respiratory infections, including the common cold, vitamin E is essential for kids. It’s also easy to find in healthful foods. So, stock up on nuts and seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables like broccoli and spinach. Sprout Organic has several great vitamin E-rich pouches, like Peach Oatmeal with Coconut Milk & Pineapple and Sweet Potato Apple Spinach. I also have a kid-favorite recipe they’ll never suspect is good for them—Kids PB&J Bars, which has vitamin E-rich chia seeds, peanut butter, whole wheat, and peanuts.

Sprout Organic baby and toddler foods are made from whole, organic, non-GMO ingredients, never from concentrates. They contain no preservatives, nothing artificial, and are minimally processed—just like the ingredients in our own kitchens. They have an entire line of plant-powered purees and snacks with veggie-based proteins from whole grains such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas. Sprout Organic makes it easier to nourish our little ones the way we want, with that added convenience we so often need.  

 

This educational post is sponsored by Sprout Organic Foods.

 

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