Building Immunity with Food

Building Immunity with Food

Like many families, I try to do the best I can to keep my children healthy throughout the year so that they don’t miss out on important and fun events.
Especially during cold and flu season, I like building immunity in my kids by encouraging them to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetable are rich in antioxidants, which are known to improve immune systems. Antioxidants can be either man-made or naturally occurring, and can prevent or slow certain types of cell damage that can be associated with illness or disease.
The more well-known antioxidants are: Beta Carotene, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, and Selenium. Some foods high in those nutrients are:

  • Beta Carotene: carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, and apricots
  • Vitamin C: red and yellow peppers, dark leafy greens, kiwi, broccoli, strawberries, and citrus fruits 
  • Vitamin E: almonds, roasted sunflower seeds, avocados, and plant oils 
  • Zinc: oysters, beef, fortified breakfast cereal, cashews, chickpeas, and chicken
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, enriched pasta, certain types of mushrooms, and soy yogurt 

So what could a whole day’s worth of meals look like, incorporating some of those antioxidant-rich foods? Here are a few examples for each meal, to give you an idea:

  • Use various vegetables in scrambled eggs and omelets
  • Mix fruits like berries into cereal
  • Make fruit and vegetable smoothies
  • Make quick breads and muffins that include nuts and shredded carrots


  • Top sandwiches with various vegetables like spinach and peppers
  • Skip croutons on salads and replace with various nuts and seeds
  • Replace potato chips with baked sweet potato chips or kale chips


  • Include various vegetables in sauces to top enriched pastas
  • Always have a side of fruit
  • Include high nutrient meats and beans with meals


  • Use guacamole has a dip for vegetables
  • Top yogurt with nuts, seeds and berries

Other Considerations Related to Immunity in Children
While the above recommendations can help boost immunity, it is also important to think about limiting the foods that could potentially decrease your child’s immune system. Those are the foods that are high in sugar and saturated fat. So it’s best to limit things like cookies, cakes, and crackers, for example.
Sleep and exercise are also important considerations for improving immunity. Being well-rested and receiving adequate amounts of exercise can go a long way to helping your child stay healthy.

Also, some families may want to try and supplement a specific vitamin or minimal to improve immunity. If you have any concerns or questions about providing supplements to your child please discuss it with your child’s physician.

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Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD

About the Author: Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD

Amy Reed, MS, RD, CSP, LD, has worked as a registered dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s for 15 years. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband and 2 boys, ages 7 and 5. In her spare time she likes to cook, exercise, and spend time with her family.

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  1. Reggie March 29, 12:50
    Now that summer is around the corner, adding frozen fruit (like strawberries, blueberries, pineapple) to your water adds a great flavor and a nice treat at the end! Great article!