Nothing is more painful than the thought that your child might be a prey to infectious diseases and more so in the current pandemic situation. We all want to protect our kids and to help them from getting sick, it is important to encourage good habits and take adequate steps to boost their immune system from an early age. While we cannot control many of the factors that affect our immune system, there are some simple measures we can take to keep the immune system up and about. The tips we follow on inculcating healthy habits in children hold equally good for strengthening their immune system as well.
#1 Staying Active
Research shows that regular exercise can increase the number of cells that fight infection. It can be challenging to be active during the pandemic as outdoor sports and activities are limited. However, there are some modern and traditional ways in which you can engage your kids in staying active. Here’s how you can do it:
- Make a schedule for you and your kids in such a way that it includes structured physical activities as well as free time.
- Build-in activities that help them get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). For example, practice yoga with them as it is a great way to help kids burn off some energy.
- Dance to music or have dance competitions with your kids. You can also take up some online dance challenges and build stamina together.
- Do a chore together – make cleaning and cooking a game! This way you are not only keeping them active and engaged but you are also teaching them how to be responsible and clean.
- Lastly, encourage them to learn new skills, eg – you can teach your child to skip, learn origami, play a musical instrument, or even draw/paint.
#2 Diet – Foods kids should consume and what they must avoid
While we do our best to take care of our children’s nutritional needs, we need to make sure that we include power foods that contain nutrients to build their immunity and fight illnesses. Certain foods have the exact nutrients that can help your kids’ immune systems be as strong as possible, so when they are exposed to the inevitable germs, they are ready to fight.
For a growing child, protein is vital to build and repair body tissue and fight viral and bacterial infections. Immune system powerhouses such as antibodies and immune system cells rely on protein. It is easy to meet the requirement for good quality protein, omegas, zinc and iron if the family’s dietary habits include lean meat like chicken and fish and eggs. Add hard boiled egg daily or you can whisk an egg and add to curries, pasta or noodles or make an egg roll with rotis.
For vegetarians, including nuts, dates, milk, pulses, dals and soya in thier diet can help to fulfil this requirement.
Nuts: Adding nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews to your kid’s diet is not only healthy but is also a boon to their overall immune system. These are packed with many nutrients along with vitamin E and manganese, a strong immune-boosting duo that both enhances natural killer cell activity.
Seeds: Serve your kids a variety of seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower and flax seeds to boost their immune systems. Sprinkle seeds in curd or on fruits or make some laddoos with nuts, seeds and dates. By eating a wide variety of seeds, they will be getting vitamin E, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids, all of which help build the immune system.
Friendly bacteria: Our microbiome is the collection of friendly bacteria that naturally occurs in our guts. They protect our digestive tracts, help us to digest food, and shield us from invading bacteria and viruses. As such, maintaining a healthy microbiome can help a child’s ability to fend off infection. One great way to do this is to serve more probiotic-rich foods to the whole family. Add plain yogurt or curd or buttermilk in your kid’s diet or make some smoothies or lassi with curd and fresh fruits. However, avoid giving your kids flavored yogurts as they are packed with sugar which suppresses the immune system.
Eat the rainbow: Encourage your child to “eat the rainbow” when it comes to fruits and vegetables, as well as a good selection of whole grains. These are full of antioxidants which help thier body to fight oxidative stress and helps keep their immune system fighting!
Sulfur-rich vegetables: Onions, cauliflower, broccoli, as well as dark leafy greens like spinach, are loaded with the B-vitamins that fuel methylation and can help to power up your child’s ability to safely process and eliminate everything from pollution to chemical exposure. And what about those kids who stubbornly refuse to eat those veggies? Try making smoothies and frozen yogurt with veggies, curd/ milk with just a fruit for sweetness. They will be getting a sweet treat and you will get the satisfaction of knowing they are strengthening their immunity and natural resilience. Hide up veggies by blending them in the roti dough, in pasta sauce, curries, pulaos and watch your kids eat up the colorful food without any complaints.
Limit junk food intake: Any food that is high in calories and bad nutrients like saturated fat, trans fat, preservatives, sugar and salt should be limited. Many packaged snacks and bakery products fall in this category. The sugar and fat can suppress the immune system, and the empty calories contribute to weight gain, resulting in a weaker immune system.
Increase water intake: Water keeps the body hydrated, carries nutrients and helps to remove toxins. It is important that your child drinks 6-8 glasses of water in a day.
In today’s fast-paced world where parents are overstressed and children often over-scheduled, it can take a toll on immunity. It’s important for children to have lots of down time, time for creative play, and times of rest. Busy bodies need to take a break every now and then for their immune systems to thrive.
- Adhere to mealtimes: Stick to mealtimes as their body needs nutrients and energy to ward off or fight infections. There is definitely enormous merit in sticking to a routine that your child is used to when in school. Try to follow a similar schedule, be it mealtime, television time or sleep time, even during the lockdown.
- Optimal levels of Vitamin D have been shown to improve symptoms of these conditions by helping increase white blood cells, which are the defenders of your immune system. Reading outdoors in the balcony, or playing card games, having picnic breakfasts in the backyard are good ways to keep vitamin D flowing.
- Most children need 10 -14 hours of uninterrupted sleep every day to keep their immune system kicking. That means those little bodies will be better prepared to fight off any germs that come their way. Since screen time may also affect sleep quality, I recommend making sure your child’s electronic devices are powered down at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Promote hand washing. Touch transmits upto 80% of infections. Teach your children to take time to wash their hands after sneezing, coughing and going to the bathroom. Washing hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds can remove bacteria and viruses.
As parents, we need to keep ourselves and our children engaged and healthy over the coming weeks and it is not an easy task. Rather than seeing this as a chore, let’s take it as an amazing opportunity to develop a positive and healthy relationship with our child, something that may well live and flourish long past the current crisis.