Fighting the flu one bite at a time: A nutritionist’s checklist to boost your child’s immune system to help fend off swine flu

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If you’re like many parents, you are probably bracing yourself for an awful cold and flu season this year. Aside from going to the extreme of putting your child in a plastic bubble before sending him out into the germy world, you can arm him with the strength that he needs to defend himself from those nasty viruses. Author and nutritionist, Christina Schmidt offers up some healthy advice on how you can boost your kid’s immune system through the foods that he or she eats.

If you’ve never been one to obsess over cold and flu season in years past, you may be feeling a bit more uneasy this year and one word is making all the difference. Pandemic. Little needs to be said about it, but with swine flu making its rounds across the globe, you might be on red alert like just about everyone else. You’ve probably received numerous letters from your child’s school, church and daycare reminding you of proper hand washing techniques. Perhaps you’ve started arming yourself with a bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse and you may even be considering buying a holster for your belt so you can have that bottle of liquid germ killer by your side at all times.

We can’t police our kids 24/7 to make sure that they’re following proper hand washing protocol, so many parents are left feeling hopeless and may even feel so vulnerable that they see catching swine flu isn’t just a possibility; it’s inevitable. What’s a parent to do when the world outside seems to be a shooting gallery of germs just waiting to land a big nasty virus on someone in your family—short of buying matching hazmat suits?

“The good news is that there’s plenty you can do, starting with boosting your child’s immune system through her diet,” says Christina Schmidt, M.S., Nutritionist and Author of The Toddler Bistro: Child-Approved Recipes and Expert Nutrition Advice for the Toddler Years (Bull Publishing Company, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-933503-19-6, $16.95). “Protecting your child’s body from the inside through proper nutrition is not only a great strategy for warding off viruses, it’s healthy too! A healthy immune system is a powerful line of defense from those nasty viruses.” No amount of liquid hand sanitizer can help your child the second a germ enters her body so keep your kitchen stocked with foods that will help boost her immunity (and yours too!).

There are several nutrients and food components that are vital to keeping the immune system strong and functioning properly. Many of these nutrients act as vigilante antioxidants that help protect us from “scavengers” that might enter our bodies and increase our risk for various diseases. These nutrients also reduce inflammatory processes, compete with infectious bacteria and they can function to activate our complex immune defense army of white blood cells.

Looking to add to your defense arsenal to protect your child from H1N1 and seasonal flu this year? Read on for Christina’s checklist to help you serve up some immune system boosting, cold & flu-buster nutrients and foods. Serve your child foods that are rich in the following nutrients:

*Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, kiwis, peppers, tomatoes

*Vitamin E: wheat germ, nuts, fortified cereals, sweet potatoes

*Beta Carotene (Pro-Vitamin A): yellow and dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, orange squash, apricots, cantaloupe

*Zinc: meats, fish, poultry, fortified cereals, milk

*Iron: meats, poultry, fish, egg yolk, dried fruits, fortified grains, dark molasses

*Copper: meats, nuts, chocolate, cherries, whole grains

*Selenium: grains, meats, onions, milk

*Folic Acid: green leafy vegetables, eggs, meats, fish, beans, broccoli

*Vitamin B6: wheat germ, milk, egg yolk, meats

*Vitamin B12: milk, eggs, meats

*Omega 3 Fats: cold water fish, flax oil, soybeans, walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables

*Probiotics: yogurts with the “Live and Active Cultures” seal, fortified foods, supplements

*Garlic: as single ingredient or in variety of sauces, soups, ready to eat meals, supplements

“Some of my favorite cold and flu fighting family-friendly dishes are whole wheat or enriched grain spaghetti with tomato vegetable marinara mixed with chopped chicken or ground turkey; lemony chicken, vegetable and rice soup; sweet potato or butternut squash soup; carrots and ginger sauté; curried lentil stew; chili with stewed tomatoes and ground bison or other meat (optional); whole grain toast with a poached or scrambled egg; yogurt smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit; sliced oranges or grapefruit with seasonal berries,” says Schmidt. “We are coming into cranberry season—a berry rich in antioxidants—so be sure to take advantage of fresh cranberry relishes and baked goods as well.” You will find more recipes and menu suggestions in The Toddler Bistro.

“As you can see,” adds Schmidt, “by eating a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, seafood, or lean meats, you can boost your child’s immunity. These healthy foods and nutrients can arm you and your family in the fight to help prevent illness (or at least hasten a speedy recovery) from those bugs that circulate in schools and work places on their mission to turn your home life upside down!”

In addition to serving your child immunity-boosting foods, you may also consider supplementing her diet with multivitamins, probiotics, or omega 3 oils. Carlson for Kids makes several high-quality flavored omega 3 oils and chewable vitamins. Jarrow and Nature’s Way offer good probiotic powders while Rainbow Light and Centrum for Kids provide great one-a-day chewable multivitamins.

Of course, before giving your child any supplement, be sure to read the dosing instructions and keep them out of your little one’s reach! When giving any herbal supplements, check with your child’s doctor first and do not mix these with any other medications (unless the doctor says that it will be fine to do so). Also note that some herbal supplements are contraindicated for children or may cause allergic reactions so monitor your child for any reactions. Just do your homework before adding supplements your little one’s diet.

While serving your child immunity boosting foods to help him fight the flu, also note that there are some items that should be avoided. Foods that are high in refined sugars and saturated fats can have adverse effects. These foods do a number on the immune system by creating energy peaks and valleys and by fostering inflammation, so be sure to keep foods filled with refined sugars and saturated fats off the menu.

So as the H1N1 cloud looms overhead, remember that you aren’t as helpless and vulnerable as you may feel. You actually do have great ways to defend your family from the flu and those other sickening viruses out there. Practice the good habit of proper hand washing. Keep those little hands clean and teach your children that those germy fingers need to stay out of their mouths. In addition to germ-avoiding measures, remember that by giving your child the foods and supplements that will strengthen her immunity, you can enjoy this cold and flu season in good health—sniffle and fever free.