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10 ways to support kids' immune systems

by Sarah Almond Bushell, Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

16 May 2024 • 0 min read

We all have an immune system that helps to protect us from disease.

In babies and children, the immune system that will serve them throughout their lives is still developing.

This means that, for little ones, a healthy diet, good hygiene, and an up-to-date vaccination profile are key.

We’ve received guidance from The Children’s Nutritionist Sarah Almond-Bushell, who’s a registered dietician and children’s immunity expert.


She has collaborated with the NHS, Aldi, Tommee Tippee, and more to help spread awareness on children’s health – and today she’s with us at H&B.
Sarah takes us through:

  • What the immune system is and why it’s important
  • Vaccination for children and babies
  • How you can support your baby’s immune system
  • How you can support you child’s immune system

If your child seems to be constantly falling ill from colds and bugs, it may be because their immune system isn’t yet mature enough to fend off these germs.

1. Vegetables

We know, we know. Making sure your child gets the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day isn’t easy, especially if they’re a fussy eater.

However, vegetables are so important for a child’s strong immune response; it’s worth making this a priority.

Aim to include plenty of veg with red, orange, and yellow hues or dark green colours as this means they’ll be getting in their vitamin C and carotenoids, which are proven to support the immune system.1,2

Serve up some orange peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli – and Brussels sprouts, if you’re feeling festive!

Eating vegetables doesn’t come naturally to most children because of their bitter flavours. Here are some tips to help your child become familiar with vegetables:

 

Young children take cues from their parents, so try to appear excited at the prospect of choosing things in the fruit and veg section of the supermarket.

Kids also love to be independent, so allow your child to pick out the fruit or veg they like the look of for dinner.

 

Young children make their decisions about food based on what it looks like.

Food manufacturers and supermarkets know this, which is why brightly coloured packets with cartoon characters are placed at children’s eye level as you walk around the shops.

And when you know this, you can make food fun too:

  • Use cookie cutters to make flower-shaped cucumber
  • Choose a range of different coloured fruit and veg and arrange them like a rainbow
  • Make cauliflower sheep and broccoli trees

When food is fun, it’s interesting, and when it’s interesting it has a better chance of being eaten.

 Change the dialogue

Rather than telling them to eat their broccoli or bribing with a dessert, try not to make any comment on your child’s eating performance at all.

Often, our words of encouragement actually stop children from eating because they feel under pressure.

And pressure causes a spike in adrenaline, which switches appetite off.

 

Learning to like food is actually a 32-step process that starts with the sensory system.

This means that children often need to be exposed to food time and time again before they will decide to try it.

Helping you prepare and cook food is a really great way to offer this exposure in a low-pressure way.

Children as young as 1 can help wash veggies or tear lettuce, and older children can help peel and grate carrots or chop salad.

 

If you really need to, you can disguise food by blending fruit and vegetables into your child’s favourite foods. But be honest with them about what they’re eating.

If they find a bit of unblended green stuff, that could mean the end of the favourite food too! It could also cause lasting damage on the trusting feeding relationship between you.

You can add carrots and peppers in pasta sauce, sweet potato baked “fries”, cauliflower in macaroni cheese… there are plenty of ways to get resourceful.

Just be mindful that children need to see a food to learn to like it, so hiding foods is not a long-term solution.


2. Oily fish