I’ve had this article sitting in my drafts for a while, and figured now is the perfect time to finish it up. Obviously, these recommendations are useful for the whole year, but I think focusing on them right now during the COVID-19 pandemic is especially important.
Have you noticed that kids tend to be little mucous making machines? Runny noses seem to be just par for the course in childhood, and once they start school, they seem to jump from one illness to another the whole year round.
With the current lockdown many of us have been under for the last 6 months, you may have noticed that your kids are the healthiest they’ve ever been. But come the fall/winter season that’s right around the corner, you may find that your kids start getting those telltale sniffles, even in isolation!
There are a few simple reasons for this:
- Babies and little kids are still building their immune systems, and their bodies can’t always keep up with the loads of germs they are exposed to every day. Between putting everything in their mouths as babies, to sub-par personal hygiene as toddlers and kids, their bodies are being barraged by germs all day long. This is actually a good thing, as it helps their bodies build strong immunities, but often poor sleep or diet catch up with them, and their little systems just can’t keep up.
- Childhood is the Kapha type of life. In Ayurveda, Kapha dosha is characterized by growth, building, and mucous. Regardless of what your kiddo’s innate body type (or dosha) is, the first third of life is the time of Kapha, which means their little bodies naturally carry more fat, create more mucous, and grow, grow, grow. If we don’t feed them the right diet for their body types and the Kapha time of their lives, they will inherently be more prone to mucous, runny noses, and colds.
Thankfully, there is a lot we can do to support their systems, balance their Kapha, and strengthen their immune systems year round, and if they do get sick, there are plenty of healthy, natural cold remedies for babies and kids to get them healthy faster.
Below I’m sharing my favorite tools, both Western and Ayurvedic, for helping kids stay healthy.
Boosting Kids’ Immunity
Keeping your kids healthy all starts with building up their immune systems so they don’t get sick to begin with. Just as with adults, strong immunity is supported by the three pillars of health: Diet, Sleep, and Supplementation.
AN IMMUNITY BOOSTING DIET FOR KIDS
The best diet for kids is one that is primarily made out of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, clean proteins (plant or animal), and healthy fats. (Sounds familiar, right?) The problem is that when the inevitable picky eating sets in in early childhood, many parents panic and revert to easy options they know their kids will eat. White foods like crackers, pasta, sugar, and dairy tend to make up the majority of many kids’ diets in America, and unfortunately, those are all mucous-forming, immunity lowering foods.
Now as a mom of a very opinionated 3 year old, I know that eliminating these foods altogether isn’t always possible, nor would I necessarily recommend it! But these foods must be the exception to the rule, and not the daily staples.
Here are some tips for making your kids’ diets immune-boosting:
- Always include a variety of vegetables (fresh and/or cooked) at lunch and dinner. They don’t have to eat them all, but continuously exposing your kids to veggies, every day, dramatically increases the odds that they will start to love them.
- Get creative with your veggies. If your kid won’t eat veggies as they are, you can throw them into almost any recipe you’re making. Greens in a yummy smoothie, broccoli in a quinoa patty, squash in mac and cheese, etc. But often your kids will surprise you! A simple plate of crudités with hummus is a huge hit with most kids and a great way to get those veggies in!
- Put the veggies at the start of the meal, when your kid is hungriest. One of my favorite parenting teachers puts a crudité plate out while she’s making dinner so her kids load up on veggies when they’re hungry, before the meal even starts! That way, if they don’t eat a ton during the actual meal, it’s no big deal.
- Make some healthy swaps, particularly when it comes to carbs. Choose brown rice over white rice, bean or quinoa pasta over white pasta, whole grain seeded crackers over refined crackers, sprouted whole grain bread over white bread, etc. Trader Joe’s has tons of affordable, healthy, organic options for all these foods.
- Use natural sugar. Whole fruit should be the main source of sugar in your kids’ diets, but if you need to sweeten something else, raw honey or unrefined maple syrup are your best bets. All that refined sugar in kids’ diets is a HUGE part of those runny noses, poor sleep, cranky moods, and hyperactivity.
There are lots of foods that are clinically shown to boost immunity, and luckily, many of them are big hits with the littles! Every day, include at least 2-3 foods from the list below in your kids’ diet:
>> Top 10 Immune Boosting Foods for Kids
- Oats: This is a staple food in our house — my little one has eaten oatmeal for breakfast almost every day of her life, and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in her mood, digestion, and immunity. Oats contain beta-glucans, a type of fiber that has an antioxidant and anti-microbial effect in the body. Some studies show that oats are even more effective than echinacea at preventing colds and boosting immunity!
- Orange vegetables: Sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots are loaded with vitamin A and beta-carotene, which fortify the skin (the body’s first line of defense) against bacterial and viral infections.
- Green leafy vegetables: Kale, spinach, chard and friends are all phenomenal for immunity (as well as general health). They’re loaded with vitamins, fortify the gut, purify the blood, and have a slew of other health benefits. My little eats kale or spinach sautéed in coconut oil or ghee with a sprinkle of sea salt every single day and loves them! If you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of your kid shoveling kale into their mouths, you have options! Throw greens into a yummy smoothie; blend them into homemade pasta sauce, pesto, or hummus; throw them into burgers or bean patties; toss them in the oven to make kale chips, etc. And if your little is still eating purees, through greens into every puree you make!
- Bell peppers: These colorful beauties, particularly the red and yellow varieties have some of the highest vitamin C content of any food (more than oranges, btw). And as we all know, vitamin C helps boost immunity and shorten the length of colds and infections if one gets sick.
- Probiotic foods: Kefir, plain yogurt (organic unsweetened Greek, coconut or cashew are all great), coconut water kefir, and miso are all awesome probiotic foods that are super easy to add to your kids diet. Probiotics have been shown to protect against illness, bolster gut health, and improve mood. Since dairy is very mucous producing, I recommend limiting dairy yogurt to a few times a week and mixing it up with the other options. GT’s CocoKefir is a huge hit with my little one — I give her a bit with her vitamins every day!
- Wild-caught salmon and sardines: Salmon and sardines are staples in our house, but mackerel and herring can be good options as well. These fishies are loaded with Omega-3’s, zinc and vitamin D, and are anti-inflammatory, protect lungs from respiratory infections, and have even been shown to ward off certain strains of the flu.
- Trinity Roots: Garlic, ginger, and onion are the holy trinity of anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting foods. I use them as the base for all my soups, stews, and sauces (I usually omit ginger for the last one), and often throw them into cooked grains like quinoa and brown rice. I also use powdered ginger or garlic when I sauté greens. These puppies are amazing, and exposing your littles to their flavors early in life will broaden their palate and improve their health for the rest of their lives.
- Blueberries and apples: These kid favorite fruits are loaded with phytochemical and antioxidants that protect against colds and boost immunity. Make these your go-to dessert or snack options instead of other sugary or refined grain foods and notice your kids’ immunity improve drastically!
- Bone broth: Organic bone broth made from free-range chickens or grass-fed cows is full of beneficial amino acids and collagen, which heal the gut, boost immunity, and decrease inflammation. Inflammation in the gut is one of the primary causes of compromised immunity and frequent illness, and keeping the gut healthy and happy leads to healthier, happier kids. Use bone broth as a base for your soups, use it to cook your grains, or as a liquid for heating up your kiddo’s meals. Some kids even like to drink it straight as a warm, yummy treat!
- Raw honey: In it’s pure, unprocessed state, raw honey is majorly antibacterial, killing off germs and bugs in your kid’s body before they start to cause problems. It’s also mucolytic (mucous thinning), making it awesome for congested, runny noses. For kids over 1 year, add it to milk before bed, drizzle it on oatmeal, use it to sweeten herbal teas, or dip apples in it for a yummy treat!
IMMUNITY BOOSTING LIFESTYLE HABITS FOR KIDS
“Lifestyle” is a funny concept for kids — it’s not like they’re going to yoga and sipping matcha lattes. But there are a couple of key elements in your kids’ daily routines that can make or break their immune responses. Try to stick to a few healthy lifestyle basics for your littles and watch their immunity (and happiness!) improve.
- Prioritize sleep: Kids need sleep. A lot of it, actually. Children need 10-12 hours a night well into their elementary school years, and sadly, most kids aren’t getting anywhere close to that. Running a sleep deficit negatively impacts mood, memory, and immunity, and the effects just build up over time. Stick to an early bedtime (7 or 7:30pm works best for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers; 8pm can work for grade school kids; 9pm for tweens) and nip sleep issues in the bud early. My go-to resource is The Happy Sleeper, which helps you build healthy sleep habits and prioritize sleep for your little one from infancy and well into their school years.
- Spend time outdoors: Exposure to fresh air and nature has an amazing impact on immunity and health overall. From increasing vitamin D levels and exposure to beneficial bacteria, to improved mood, better sleep and more creativity, the benefits of more outdoor time are vast. Experts say that kids should spend at least 3 hours a day outside, which can seem impossible in their over-scheduled little lives. Even if you can’t manage 3 hours a day, get your kid away from a screen and out the door for as long as you can, every day. Even in the cold weather months, bundle your kid up and get them into the backyard or to the park!
- Leave room for downtime: Over-scheduled kids that are constantly being shuttled from one activity to the next can be prone to elevated cortisol (i.e.: stress) and anxiety levels, which can have an immunosuppressant effect. Make sure your kiddos have plenty of time each day for unstructured play (preferably some of it outdoors!) and downtime to keep their nervous systems calm and their immune systems strong!
IMMUNE BOOSTING HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS FOR KIDS
Just to preface, it is perfectly possible to have a super healthy kid without needing to supplement their diets at all. If your kid gets sick less than 2-3 times a year, isn’t prone to sniffles, and is generally healthy and happy, keep up the great work!
For the rest of us, some gentle, targeted supplementation can do wonders for kids’ immunity and overall wellness.
Here are my top picks:
- A whole-foods kids multivitamin: Just as with adults, a good quality multivitamin fills in the nutritional gaps in a diet and compensates for some of the childhood pickiness and poor eating days. But not all multi’s are created equal. Many have too much sugar and artificial additives, and too little actual nutrients to be much more than an expensive candy. Look for multi’s that are whole-food derived, sweetened with fruit, xylitol, or stevia, and are nutritionally balanced. My favorite is Pixie Vites — they’re a little pricey, but one bottle will last you four months for kids 1-3, and two months for kids 4 and up. Another good (less expensive) brand is Garden of Life Kids.
- Vitamin D: With all our vigilance in applying sunscreen to our kids, many children are deficient in vitamin D, especially during the colder weather months. Vitamin D is crucial for immunity and preventing colds and flu, and the vast majority of us, kids included, need a supplement. Babies and toddlers need 400 IU a day, preschoolers and school aged kids need 1000-4000 IU a day depending on their age and health profile. My favorites are Bio-D-Mulsion Drops. During this time of COVID, I’m supplementing with D year round.
- Vitamin C: If your kiddo eats lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables daily (particularly kiwi, strawberries and bell peppers), you could possibly skip this supplement, but our kiddos have amazing diets, and we still give vitamin C throughout the cold season (October-March) for some extra support. Luckily, vitamin C chewable are typically delicious and kid-friendly — I like Animal Parade Vitamin C for kids under 4, and . For babies, there is a wonderful liquid supplement with vitamin C derived from amla fruit, a traditional ayurvedic source of the nutrient. During this time of COVID, I’m supplementing my 5 year old with C year round.
- Elderberry: I use this supplement during the whole cold/flu season for our whole family, and find it extremely effective. There was a year when I spaced and didn’t start everyone on it until January/February, and I swear we all got sick several times throughout the fall. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can make your own elderberry syrup, or else there are plenty of good supplements out there. Sambucol and Sambucus are two of our faves. During this time of COVID, I’m supplementing my 5 year old with Elderberry year round.
- Zinc: This important mineral is crucial for immune strength. Luckily, there are tons of delicious foods that are loaded with zinc (like legumes, nuts and seeds, eggs, whole grains, and shellfish), so making sure you’re including those in your kids’ diet is a great line of defense against illness. I typically only give a zinc supplement at the first sign of illness (only after 7 months old). I like to keep a liquid zinc picolinate (the most absorbable form) on hand, so I can adjust dosage for different ages. During this time of COVID, I’m supplementing my 5 year old with 7 mg of zinc a day year round.
- Glutathione: This is an amazing supplement to add for kiddos and families who are always getting sick. When my oldest started preschool, the onslaught of new bugs was a lot for her system, and this supplement was a huge help. Glutathione is a super important antioxidant that decreases inflammation and increases immune function. The best supplement out there is Trizomal Gluathione by Apex Energetics, which you can only get through a practitioner. Ask your integrative pediatrician, health counselor or naturopath to get it!
- Probiotic: Immunity (as well as general health) starts in the gut, and often times our childrens’ guts are depleted of the healthy bacteria that they need. This is often a result of poor diet, too much sugar, stress, or overuse of antibiotics. I’ve been supplementing both my kids with probiotics since birth. For babies and young toddlers, I like Bio-Kult Infantis. For older toddlers and kids (who can handle a chewable), I like Klaire Labs Therbiotic or Garden of Life Organic Kids+.
With some kids going back to school or venturing out more, on top of the coming fall/winter cold season, it’s more important now than ever to support our little ones’ immune systems to keep them strong and healthy!