While you continue to take precautions to keep your kids safe from COVID-19, you should also 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 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 all prepared for the rest of the winter.
Keep your body functioning optimally with the following healthy eating tips.
Nutrients that support our immune systems include vitamins C and D, beta-carotene, zinc, protein and probiotics, explain Jessica Holler and Alison Martin, dietitians at Nourish Family Nutrition in Towson, Maryland.
“Vitamin C supports a variety of immune functions. Foods that are rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits (oranges and clementines), bell peppers, berries, broccoli, potatoes and tomatoes,” Holler says.
Zinc helps our bodies build white blood cells. “Our best sources of zinc are in seafood such as oysters and crab—and we’re lucky to be in Maryland where all the best seafood is—but we also get zinc from red meat, poultry, beans and nuts,” says Martin.
A healthy gut microbiome is crucial for a strong immune system, something that foods with probiotics, which are live, beneficial bacteria, can support.
“Our microbiome has been shown to be a crucial part of our immune response. We can bolster our microbiome by eating fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso, which provide probiotics,” Martin says.
If there’s one things kids love, it’s snacks. Use snack time as a chance to sneak in some more healthy foods.
“Don’t forget to include a solid after-school snack including some produce and protein. Some of my favorites for kiddos are Greek yogurt (flavored is fine), a cheese stick and whole-grain crackers, nut butter and apple slices, and energy balls,” Holler says.
Eating well is only one part of staying healthy. “It’s also important for your family to stay hydrated and get in plenty of enjoyable movement,” Holler says.
“Any movement or exercise your child participates in should always be fun for them!” Martin says. Try taking walks or hikes together as a family. Go on a seasonal scavenger hunt. Play soccer or lacrosse in the backyard. Organize dance parties or try a new activity together such as rock climbing.”
Parents also need to integrate healthy choices into their family’s routine.
“Ways that parents can integrate these healthy lifestyle choices include improving the meals that they consume as a family (less fast foods) and having active physical activities that they do as a family,” says Shari Cohen, a doctor at Valley Pediatrics in Owings Mills. “Weekends are perfect times to go for walks, rake leaves or play in the snow in the winter.”
Practicing good hygiene
Teaching good hand washing and hygiene is also crucial for avoiding germs. “Washing hands frequently especially before eating is very important as a preventive measure,” Cohen says.
A final word on COVID 19 …
This year has been particularly hard year for families adjusting to returning to work and school and dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Stress can weaken immune systems, so it’s important that parents relax and get help when they need it.
“As parents, sometimes we invest so much time and energy into making sure our kids are happy and healthy that we forget about ourselves. Parents should aim for three balanced meals every day,” Martin says.
Taking these small steps to further strengthen your immune system 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.
“This year, with COVID-19 still affecting kids and adults, it is even more important for everyone to get their flu vaccines. It is difficult to distinguish COVID from a cold or flu,” Cohen says. “We often have to test children who have a runny nose, cough or fever for COVID-19 in order to prevent spread at school or in the home.”
Stay healthy and let’s get through this cold and flu season together.