Building Blocks for a Healthy Immune System

You’ve heard about washing hands and covering coughs to protect your child from the flu – on the outside. But what can you do to protect him or her on the inside?

“Good nutrition is a key element of helping kids fight off the cold or flu,” says Rachel Riddiford, manager of clinical dietetics at Dayton Children’s. “Providing the right foods for your child will help create a healthy immune system – a natural defense of the cold or flu.”

Six ways to build a natural defense system:

  1. Five fruits and vegetables each day give vitamins C, E and A and phytochemicals, essential for a healthy immune system.
  2. Yogurt with active cultures (probiotics) once a day. These foods build defenses against flu and the common cold. Consider daily yogurt with active cultures or even supplements (mixed probiotic strains).
  3. What do eggs, nuts, meat and fish have in common? These foods plus poultry provide immune enhancing vitamins B6, B12 (except nuts), zinc and selenium.
  4. Got milk? The added vitamins A and D boosts immunity. Cow’s milk also provides vitamin B12 and zinc.
  5. Another source of vitamin D? Fish and eggs.
  6. Whole and enriched or fortified grains are another power house source of vitamin B6, vitamin A, folic acid (folate), selenium, iron and zinc. Think cereal, bread and rice to keep the flu bug away.

“If your child does get the flu, good nutrition is still important,” says Riddiford. “It’s important to properly hydrate and feed your child in a progression.”

Here are three nutrition tips if your child gets the flu:

  1. Stay hydrated. Start with ice chips, progress to sips of clear liquids. Think water, diluted herbal tea and broth. This is even a time to consider caffeine-free soft drinks. Diluted juices such as cranberry and grape may also be well tolerated.
  2. When your child is ready to progress to food, start with small bites several hours apart. Good foods to start with are grains without added fat like bread, plain cereal or dry and crispy crackers.
  3. Finally, monitor your child depending on how they are tolerating food. Start with more frequent feedings, then mix food (grains) and drink. Next, add fruits and vegetables. Then milk and dairy, finally add meat.

About our expert – Rachel Riddiford, MS, RD, LD

Rachel has been an employee of Dayton Children’s since 2004. She is currently the Manager of Clinical Dietetics and works as an eating disorder specialist in the Nutrition Clinic. Rachel completed her BS in Dietetics at Western Michigan University, Master’s degree at University of Dayton, and dietetic internship at Indiana University/Purdue University. She has also completed an American Dietetic Association Pediatric and Adolescent Weight Management Certificate. Rachel has worked as a Registered Dietitian for over 20 years in a variety of settings, including adult hospitals, private practice, and child development centers. She has also served as an Adjunct Instructor at the University of Dayton and has held leadership positions in various professional associations, including the Dayton Dietetic Association and the ADA Hunger and Malnutrition Dietetic Practice Group. Rachel loves gardening, sailing, hiking, and cooking, and raising a rambunctious family of five children with her husband.

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.

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