Help your Immune System Help You with Foods that Help you Stay Well

Not long ago we posted an infographic with suggestions to Help Your Immune System keep you well. That’s a tall order at this time of the year! And with the COVID-19 Pandemic, wellness is certainly on all of our minds. So we are going to build on those suggestions starting with tips for how to boost our immune system functioning with the foods we eat.

As you read these tips, consider how you might use a hydration or food-promoting incentive chart to keep track of your progress.

While processed and fried foods can decrease immune function, foods that are high in antioxidants and flavonoids give a powerful boost to the immune system. These foods include colorful fruit and vegetables, spices, and one that may come as a surprise. But first, hydration!

Water, tea, and other non-sugary drinks

Lately, there has been a lot of hype about drinking plenty of non-sugary fluids. You probably know that 80% of our bodies is water. So it’s not surprising that proper hydration is necessary for optimal functioning of all of our body systems. For the immune system, water is needed for the production of lymph (a substance that moves around our bodies to recognize and eliminate possible threats), to bring oxygen to the muscles which are responsible for circulating lymph, to eliminate toxins, and to keep the eyes and mouth moist which helps keep out pathogens that can make us sick.

Not only that, but staying hydrated helps children learn!

The amount of water we need varies widely from person to person and is closely related to a number of changing conditions. A good indication that you or your children are getting enough water is clear urine and rarely feeling thirsty. Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Get kids involved—allow them to choose their own motivating reusable water bottle to keep on hand
  • Begin the day with a “family fill up”. Maybe you have a favorite song to play while you fill up your tanks. Or you could try this one, PBS’s Hydration Nation, or a rap by teacher Mr. Horne.
  • Make sure that water or tea (herbal for children) is available and easy to drink all the time and serve with every meal. Avoid soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks which have a lot of added sugar. Drinks that are naturally high in sugar such as juice and milk should be used in limited quantities.
  • Take it with you! Use those fun water bottles to ensure you have access to liquid while you are out.
  • If it is hot, you are ill, or exercising, increase your intake!

Citrus Fruit

Citrus fruit like lemon, lime, oranges, and grapefruit are loaded with antioxidants in the form of Vitamin C. Antioxidants help your body resist, repair, and recover from illness. Try to eat citrus fruit every day.

  • Add a slice to your water for extra flavor and a boost of Vitamin C.
  • A squeeze of lemon or lime enhances the flavor of my dishes—scrambled eggs, soup, beans, rice, even pasta! Be creative!
  • Oranges and clementines make excellent desserts and snacks.


Could there be a more delicious way to support our immune system?!? Berries are high in important antioxidants called flavonoids that play a central role in keeping us well. Berries are also rich in fiber, helping to feed our gut flora which in turn further strengthens our immune system.

  • Combine with your citrus fruits for snacks and desserts
  • Simmer berries to make your own homemade syrup or sauce to naturally sweeten a wholesome bowl of oats or whole-grain pancakes (more fiber!)
  • Perfect for smoothies, try adding kale (see below)

Leafy Greens

In study after study, leafy greens come out on top for optimal health, including supporting the immune system. If you’re having a hard time finding ways to include them in your meals, here are a few suggestions.

  • Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, or arugula, when finely chopped, blend seamlessly into soups, bean dishes or dips, and pasta sauces
  • Include a little kale or other leafy green in your smoothie blend
  • Add spinach leaves to your hamburger or other sandwich. If you make your own hamburger patties, there’s no end to what you can hide in there!
  • Likewise, greens and other veggies can be finely chopped and baked into meatloaf, egg bake, or casserole.


Packed with Vitamins C, D, E, and other antioxidants, broccoli can truly be considered a superfood. If you haven’t already, try introducing broccoli to your family. It may take several tries, but many kids learn to not just to tolerate, but LOVE broccoli. It can take many exposures before children will accept some new foods. Keep trying.

  • Overcooked broccoli can be easy to reject! Try lightly steaming and adding a dash of lemon or lime or nutritional yeast (see below).
  • Roast broccoli with a bit of garlic powder (another immune system-boosting food)
  • If your child doesn’t like cooked broccoli, try serving it raw with their favorite dipping sauce
  • Pizza! (Need I say more?)
  • Broccoli pairs fabulously and tends to be accepted in mac and cheese or casserole-type dishes. Start with a little at first and slowly increase the amount of broccoli as your child or family adapts


Herbs and spices are perhaps the most concentrated source of antioxidants at our fingertips. Try to include them at every meal! Try expanding beyond cinnamon to clove and cardamom powder. Sprinkle oregano, thyme, black pepper, and more on practically any meal for instant antioxidant enrichment.

Nutritional Yeast

Many of us are just now becoming aware of nutritional yeast. It is a delicious flavor-enhancing condiment that is becoming increasingly available at the supermarket. In many recent studies it has been shown to help children and adults stave off colds and, if they succumb to illness, to get well sooner.

Apart from boosting the immune system, these foods are a fabulous addition to a well-rounded diet that optimizes learning in children and adults.

It may seem daunting at first, if these foods are not already part of your routine eating style. Start slowly and go easy. New habits develop over time. Start with one food or food type and branch out from there, building on what you’re already doing.  You can also check out this post for creative inspiration for making foods fun and incorporating children in food preparation and clean up.

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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2021

Image: © Andrii Klemenchenko |


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