'Tis the season for your child to bring home a nasty bug from school that will travel all through your family and leave everyone down for the count and your household in total disarray. Amiright?
There's no doubt that solid sleeping habits and a healthy diet are two cornerstones of an immune system that can defend against illness. But there also are certain foods and drinks that seem to help keep bugs at bay—or if kids are already sick, help them feel a little bit better, a little bit faster. Here are five to try:
It's smart to give your kids some kind of probiotic on a regular basis, especially during cold and flu season. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help strengthen the immune system by populating the GI tract and crowding out the bad bugs that can cause illness. Food sources include yogurt and kefir (a cultured dairy drink), or ask your pediatrician about a children's probiotic supplement.
These bright orange spuds are loaded with vitamin A, a key immune system nutrient that helps keep tissue in the mouth, intestines, and respiratory tract healthy. Just a half cup of cooked sweet potatoes has double the A that kids need every day. Carrots, red bell peppers, mango, and dried apricots are also packed with vitamin A.
Meat is naturally high in protein, a critical component of the immune system. Beef and pork especially are also some of the richest food sources of zinc, a mineral used by the body to make T-cells, which play a starring role in immunity. Other good sources of zinc are cashews, chickpeas, and kidney beans.
Your grandma was right: There's something about chicken soup (even the store-bought kind!) that makes you feel better when you're sick. Researchers actually think there may be multiple substances in chicken soup that have beneficial medicinal powers, like anti-inflammatory abilities that can help soothe a respiratory infection.
Got a miserable, sniffly kid? In research, people with symptoms of colds and flu who sipped on a hot drink said it immediately eased their runny nose, cough, sneezing, sore throat, chills, and fatigue. For little ones, brew up some decaf tea with a drizzle of honey, which may help make a sore throat and cough feel better too.
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.