Cincinnati Children's Blog

Building Immunity with Food

Building Immunity with Food

Preventing illnesses, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic, is at the top of all of our minds. While it’s not practical to think that we can avoid 100% of illnesses, having a healthy immune system is an important part of boosting our natural defenses. 

One key way to keep our natural defenses strong is by eating a balanced and varied diet. It is also recommended to limit or avoid highly-processed foods, such as cakes, cookies and chips, that are low in nutrition and often take the place of more nutrient-dense foods.

Here are some key immune-boosting nutrients: 

  • 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
  • Vitamin D: Salmon, tuna, tofu, fortified dairy products, eggs, cheese, and mushrooms
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, enriched pastas and grains, certain types of mushrooms, fish, beef, poultry and eggs
  • Beta Carotene: Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, and apricots
  • Protein: Seafood, poultry, meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, beans, lentils, and seeds

So what could a whole day’s worth of meals look like, incorporating some of those immunity-boosting nutrients?

Here are some immunity-boosting sample meals: 


  • 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 whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables
  • Top whole grain waffles or toast with peanut butter and fruit
  • Make yogurt parfaits with fruit and nuts or seeds


  • Top sandwiches with various vegetables like spinach and peppers; include hummus or guacamole for immune-boosting nutrition
  • Skip croutons on salads and replace with various nuts and seeds
  • Replace potato chips with baked sweet potato fries, kale chips or roasted chick peas


  • Include various vegetables in sauces to top pastas
  • Always have a side of fruit or vegetables or both
  • Include high quality protein source such as lean meats and beans with meals


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

Other Considerations Related to Immunity in Children

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.

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