Welcome to Family Times!

Close this search box.

Immune-boosting foods for the family

The winter ills, chills and viruses are back! But don’t just wait at home with a box of tissues. Fight back by feeding your kids immune-boosting foods. Registered nutritionist and naturopath TESSA SCOTT shares her tips.

Dunedin-based Tessa says there are three key ways to boost our families’ immune systems – through food and nutrition, lifestyle, and natural medicines.

But some things work against that natural immunity, such as eating too much sugar (try to keep it to three or four teaspoons a day for kids) and not getting enough time outside and hence, not enough Vitamin D.

Too much exposure to common household chemicals such as bleach and triclosan (found in some soaps, toothpaste, hand sanitisers, and mouthwash) can reduce immunity levels too, she says.

Food and nutrition

The key nutrients involved in the function of immune cells include vitamins A, C & D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein as well as antioxidants and phytonutrients, so it’s extra important that kids are getting these nutrients throughout winter, Tessa says.

Foods that have these include:

Vitamin A – egg yolks, carrots, apricots

Vitamin C – mango, oranges, strawberries, blackcurrants, kūmara, pineapple, broccoli, kiwifruit, tomatoes, peas

Vitamin D – tinned tuna, sardines, mackerel or fortified foods

Zinc – meat, nuts/seeds

Selenium – Brazil nuts, wholegrain cereals, meat, eggs, dairy products

Iron – meat, eggs, green vegetables

Protein – meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts/seeds

Antioxidants and Phytonutrients – these are in colourful fruits and vegetables – berries, kiwis, citrus, carrot, pumpkin, beetroot, red cabbage, capsicum, leafy greens, and herbs are all good examples.

“Kids aged four and upwards need around five servings of vegetables and two of fruit each day,” Tessa says.

Half a cup of cooked vegetables and a medium-sized piece of fruit would be an example of a serving size.

“In terms of protein foods (meats, nuts/seeds, eggs, legumes), four- to eight-year-olds need 1.5 servings, and kids aged nine to 13 need 2.5 servings.”

One serving of protein would be half a chicken breast, half a cup of cooked mince or casserole, two eggs, one cup of cooked lentils or chickpeas, or a handful of nuts and seeds.

But how do you get these foods into kids?

Tessa suggests aiming for veggies at every meal. For instance, you could try:

  • avocado and tomato on toast
  • cold roast veggies in the lunchbox
  • cucumber and carrot sticks with dips such as hummus for snacks
  • adding spinach and nuts and seeds to smoothies
  • grate carrots/courgettes/beetroot into Bolognese.

Using sticker charts to see how many different coloured veggies the kids can eat each day can help and Tessa says we should also talk to our kids about why we need to eat these foods.

“You could say: ‘Did you know cheese helps your bones to grow?’ or ‘Carrots have vitamin A in them which helps us see in the dark’”.

It’s also important to check whether there are any underlying reasons the kids may not be eating the healthy food you provide, such as:

  • are they filling up on snacks or drinks (milk, energy drinks)?
  • are you giving them too much and they feel overwhelmed?
  • are they sick or too tired to eat?
  • are they distracted e.g. watching screens while eating, TV on in the background?
  • do they have good role models around? (E.g. are you eating the foods they eat and/or are you pressuring them to eat?)
  • have you given them enough time between snacks and meals to get hungry again? (Aim for at least two hours between each snack/meal.)

Tessa says we need to keep offering these foods to the kids even if they aren’t eaten as introducing new foods can be overwhelming for children.

“It can take 20-30 exposures to the food for them to even give it a go!” she says.


Our gut microbiome heavily influences our immune system. Exposure to microbes through interactions with our environment helps to diversify the types of bacteria we have in our guts.

A low diversity of gut bacteria is associated with higher rates of infection, allergies, eczema, and asthma, Tessa says.

Here are some ways gut bacteria diversity is affected:

  • Letting children play outside and get dirty regularly (i.e. every day) helps contribute to increasing diversity.
  • Using hand sanitisers and chemicals such as bleach and triclosan can lower diversity.

Natural medicines

“Using natural medicines such as herbs is a really effective way to boost the immune system and support it when kids get sick,” Tessa says.

Safe herbs to start with are echinacea, elderberry, thyme, ginger, and olive leaf.

“There are several safe herbal products available at pharmacies and health stores for kids that support immunity and help with coughs and colds,” she says.

Tessa offers a range of free nutritional resources for parents at her website Tessascott.co.nz.

<< Check out immune boosting recipes from Tessa >>

Share this article...



Latest Articles

Family Times is proud to support: