Building Immunity with Food During COVID-19

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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Shelly Frank, RD, LD

About the Author: Shelly Frank, RD, LD

Shelly Frank, RD, LD is a clinical dietitian with the Center for Better Health and Nutrition and the HealthWorks! programs within Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute. Shelly has been providing pediatric weight management services at Cincinnati Children’s for over 15 years.

Write a comment


  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!
  2. Corp March 26, 15:28
    Thank you for the tips! This should be really helpful for my family meal planning.