Let's cut to the chase. Schools are well-lit cesspools filled with adorable construction paper puppets, short drinking fountains, and pathogens as far as the eye can see. Kids are many things, but neither "cautious" nor "remotely interested in public health" are amongst them. And, it seems like they're constantly getting sick. Here are six ways you can boost your kid's immune system before you send them back to Thunderdome — er, school.
6 Tips for Keeping the Kids at School and Away From the Doc
Eat the Rainbow
It may seem odd to talk about a six-year-old's "healthy lifestyle choices," but eating well is exactly what fuels a robust immune system. A diet rich in whole foods and heavy on fruits and vegetables, does wonders for the immune system, no matter the age.
Here are five of the best fruits and veggies for immune system strength:
- Citrus fruits, which contain vitamin C to escalate the production of white blood cells
- Red bell peppers, which have three times as much vitamin C as oranges
- Broccoli packed with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, and E
- Garlic featuring allicin to boost your immune system
- Spinach, which is also rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, and antioxidants
We can practically hear you right now: "Um, that's great about red bell pepper being an immune system booster and upstaging oranges and all that, but how am I going to get my kid to eat one without breading and deep frying it?"
5 Ways To Get Your Kids To Love Veggies
Parenting requires creativity. While some kids take to broccoli like fish to water, you literally couldn't pay other kids to take a bite. Here are five tips for working veggies onto the menu at your family table:
- Don't Rush
It's often best to slow-play things when introducing a new veggie. Start by just having that vegetable on the table at several meals. Offer your kids some, or don't; just get them used to seeing carrots hanging around, for example, and to seeing you chow down on them.
Over time, two things will happen to increase the odds of your kid taking a bite. First, any mystique those carrots had will dissipate entirely with time. Second, you will have enticed your child into trying a food you and other grown-ups seem to eat all the time and enjoy. It's not quite Inception, but it works.
- Invest in Some Fun Utensil and Tools
Try accompanying a new fruit or veggie with an awesome new airplane fork. Or, use plastic eyeball toothpicks to turn strawberries into ladybugs. Get creative and have fun!
- Presentation Counts
Using a vegetable slicer to make carrot curls instead of boring old sticks can take a meal from zero to exciting for the SpongeBob crowd.
- Be a Role Model
Show junior how it's done by eating plenty of fruits and veggies yourself.
- Be Sneaky
When all else fails, you can sneak veggies into just about everything with minimal fuss. Start with smoothies, a perennial kid favorite, and tuck some spinach in there amidst the bananas and almond butter.
Incorporate Zinc in Their Diet
Zinc may not be the flashiest mineral, but it plays a critical role in boosting your kid's immune system. In addition to supplements, it's found in a variety of foods, including:
- Oysters and other shellfish
- Peanuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts
- Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
- Pumpkin, hemp, and sesame seeds
Should you choose to go the supplement route, make sure you don't overdo it. Here's how to boost a child's immune system with zinc according to age:
- Birth to age 3: 5-10 milligrams
- Age 4-10: 10 milligrams
- Age 11+: Females, 12 milligrams; Males 15 milligrams
Immunity and gut health are strongly linked even when that gut's covered by Super Mario Bros. pajamas. In fact, roughly 70% of your child's immune system is housed in the gut (yours too, by-the-way), so keeping their digestive system healthy is central to his or her defense against all those classmates who never learned how to vampire cough.1
When a breach does occur, and your child manages to pick up whatever's going around, taking Polisorb at the first sign of an upset stomach can reduce its symptoms in severity and duration. It's safe for anyone over the age of one and works in as little as 15 minutes to help round up and flush out irritants in your son or daughter's digestive tract. Quickly and effectively putting an end to discomfort and helping your child's system start recovering sooner.
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Encourage Proper Exercise
As if you need yet another reason to tear your kids away from their screens, regular exercise is excellent for their immunity. It reduces stress, boosts blood flow, strengthens antibodies, and basically makes it all-around easier for your child's immune cells to do their jobs. Whether it's running around the park or playing varsity lacrosse, the CDC recommends all kids ages six to 17 get at least one hour of moderate to high-intensity exercise each day.2
Teach Proper Hygiene
Most kids learn by doing. Use this to your advantage. Explain why regular hand washing is a must, and why it’s even more important after sneezing or using the restroom is a must. Then, show your son or daughter how to do it the correct way. Demonstrating proper technique helps good hygiene habits stick.
Make Sleep a Priority
One of the very best things you can do for your child's health from head to toe is make sure that they get enough sleep each night. Rest is fundamental for an immune system that's ready and raring to go. Sleep needs vary by age, with younger children requiring more sleep than older ones.
As a parent, you have a lot on your plate, and your kids aren't always the most willing collaborators. (We know; we're parents too.) Prioritize as many of the tasks on this list as you can, and you'll give your school-aged kids an extra line of defense against the virus du jour in their cafeteria. Kids may be resilient, but they're also terrible decision-makers who — even as graduation approaches — often need an adult to remind them their immune systems are, like, totally important.