How to Keep Your Child Healthy during COVID-19
If you’re wondering how to keep your child healthy during COVID-19 you are not alone. Staying at home more often with the kiddos can be a challenge. With the cold weather still lingering, getting motivated to go outside can be tough! It’s also easy to default to good ole comfort food or order something fast for dinner, when you’ve had a busy day of multi-tasking.
Now that we’ve eased ourselves into the new year, there’s no better time to get the family back on track. So, what are some ways to keep your child healthy during COVID-19? Keep reading to find out!
First things first, can I “boost” my child’s immune system?
With children in and out of school, there has been an overwhelming amount of information online about questions related to “immune-boosting” foods and supplements to keep your child virus-free and healthy during COVID-19. Despite what you may have seen online, the short answer to this question is no. There is no single food, supplement or natural health product that will prevent, treat or cure colds or viruses like COVID-19.1
Instead, it would be helpful to focus on supporting your child’s immune system – to keep it functioning normally and strong.
Many different factors play into supporting a strong immune system. Some of these factors include healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising, adequate sleep, managing stress, and eating a healthy, balanced diet. We will focus on factors we feel you can take control of starting today. So, let’s jump in!
Focus on Finding your Healthy
It’s no surprise, we hear it all the time in podcasts, articles and on TV….to stay healthy, we need to make healthy food choices. What does healthy eating mean and where do you start? First off, there is no one-size-fits all approach to healthy eating, it looks different for everyone and healthy eating shouldn’t be restrictive. It should be positive, enjoyable and satisfying. It can include choosing foods sometimes because they give your body nutrients, even though you might prefer the taste of something else. It includes eating foods occasionally that don’t fit into any of the food groups just for the sheer pleasure of their taste. 2 Be adventurous and take your children on a journey of food discovery, find your own healthy as a family. To get you started, we’ve compiled lists and tips that focus on supporting your child’s immune system through delicious and nutritious food choices.
Here’s our top list based on the Dietitian’s of Canada’s recommendations, to help support immune function. 1
These healthy food choices include:
- Vegetables and fruits,
- Whole-grain foods,
- Protein foods and,
- Limit highly processed foods
Let’s start with vegetables and fruits.
There’s a reason you often hear, “eat the colours of the rainbow!” Vegetables and fruits have very important nutrients such as fibre, which keeps us regular, vitamin C and A are natural infection fighters, Vitamin D plays an important role in supporting the immune system and minerals like magnesium can help support immune function. Plus, colourful vegetables and fruits are more nutritious and richer in “antioxidants” compounds.
- Bell Peppers
It will help if you have these fruits and vegetables ready to grab and eat in the fridge for a quick and healthy snack if your child is hungry throughout the day.
- Celery, carrots, and cucumber with hummus
- Adding bananas, mango, or berries to lower fat yogurt
- Canned peaches packed in water
- Freeze seedless grapes
Tip: Fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates can be high in sugar. Replace sugary juice at mealtime with water. Always do your best to choose raw or cooked veggies or fruit instead of juice!
Whole Grain Foods:
Did you know that whole-grain foods contain three elements of grains? These include bran, endosperm and the germ. Whole-grain foods are a healthier choice than refined grains because whole-grain foods include all three parts of the grain. 3
White enriched flours have the bran and the germ removed, and unfortunately when removed, so are most of the nutrients. Whole grains contain significantly more fibre, protein and vitamins than foods made from enriched white flours. Read the ingredient list and choose foods with the word “whole-grain” followed by the name of the grain, like: whole-grain oats, or whole-grain wheat. Whole wheat foods are not whole-grain, but can still be a healthy choice as they contain fibre. 3
Some ways to get your kids to eat more whole-grains include:
- Offering whole-grain crackers or whole-grain baked pita “chips” as a snack
- Serving your favourite oatmeal for breakfast
- Opting for a cereal made with whole-grains, and top with fruit slices or berries and milk
- Using whole-grain pasta in place of traditional enriched white pasta
- Instead of stir-fry made with white rice, let the kids try whole-grains like brown rice, quinoa, barley or farro! Or take a baby-step approach and mix white rice with a new whole-grain variety.
- Having whole-grain toast with nut butter and banana as a snack
Pro Tip: If your child is looking for a late-night snack, try popping your own popcorn. Yes – popcorn is a whole grain and can be a very healthy snack when lightly seasoned and is F-U-N to make!
Protein plays an important role in the body’s immune system and can come from different sources. Consider incorporating protein foods that come from plants, as they can provide more fibre and less saturated fats than other types of protein foods. Lean meats, seafood, poultry and eggs are also a great source of iron, zinc, and Vitamin B-12 which can help support the immune system too!
Protein power, what does this look like for kids?
Try foods such as:
- Nuts and seeds such as peanuts, almonds, cashews and nut butters
- Fish and shellfish like shrimp and salmon
- Beans, peas and lentils such as chickpeas, black beans and kidney beans
- Lower fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and lower sodium cheeses
For snack and meal ideas, try these yummy options for the kids:
- Nut butter with celery or spread on toast
- Lower fat yogurt with fresh fruit
- Hummus with fresh veggies
- Nuts and seeds (but make sure they are sliced or slivered, as they can be a choking hazard for young ones!)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Make up a lentil soup ahead of time to have for lunches
- Have a meatless, bean burrito bowl night
- Add tofu to your stir-fry
Limit Processed Foods:
In addition to what you do eat, significantly cutting down or removing highly-processed foods in your child’s diet, will help improve and support the production of immune cells and antibodies. Highly processed foods (yes, loved by our kiddos) include: sugary drinks, cookies and cake, chocolates and candies, sugary breakfast cereals, and fast food. We know this can be tough, so try to eat them less often, in smaller amounts, and replace with healthier options.
- Making homemade versions of your child’s favourite treats such as healthier muffins, or pancakes. There are a ton of great options from Canada’s Food Guide here.
- Replacing those sugary drinks with water
- Choosing leftover baked chicken instead of deli meats for kids sandwiches
- Making steel-cut oats instead of the sugary instant oats
- If you do eat out, look for a healthier option on the menu for the kids
Dealing with Picky Eating
Picky eaters can be a challenge for parents, especially when trying to establish healthy eating habits. Children are more likely to accept a new food the more often they are exposed to it. Always remember, you can re-introduce an unfamiliar food again later, if you’re little one isn’t a first-time fan! 4
Be sure to add variety. Try experimenting with one new vegetable or fruit a month, get the kids involved. Have them help choose that new fruit or veggie.
Tip: Smoothies are a fun was to eat fruit and frozen fruits are just as nutritious as fresh, it’s all the same mixed up in a blender. Have the kids create their own signature smoothie. They can wash and peel the fruit, add nut butters and ice in the blender. They can make you a smoothie breakfast in the morning! Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone, add fresh or frozen kale or spinach or some added vitamin power!
If you feel like your child is coming up short in terms of achieving their dietary needs, you may consider trying a nutritional supplement to help. One we like to suggest is PediaSure.®
PediaSure®provides complete, balanced nutrition to help support kids’ growth and development, and each bottle provides 26 vitamins and minerals, and 9.3g of protein! With flavours like chocolate and vanilla, you can add these in your smoothies or other recipes like healthy pancakes and waffles! They also taste great chilled or paired with their favourite recipe for that extra nutrient kick.
Make time to stay physically active, but also stay safe during COVID-19.
Apart from eating healthy, getting exercise is another great way to support your child’s immune system. One great way to keep your child healthy during COVID-19 is to go for a family walk.
Walking is such a great form of exercise, no matter your age. If it’s a nice sunny winter day, why not go for a little walk together? Take this time to leave the screens behind and talk and bond with your child. All the while giving them the exercise they need to stay healthy!
Lastly, lead by example!
Whether it’s getting more exercise or eating healthier with children, it’s important to lead by example! A lot of these food tips apply to parents too. Prepare and eat healthy foods with your kids and encourage fun new activities each month! Kids are more likely to make healthy habits and choices when you do! With these tips you and your child can stay healthy during COVID-19 and everyday.
- Advice for the general public about COVID-19. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.dietitians.ca/News/2020/Advice-for-the-general-public-about-COVID-19
- Godfreyson, A. (2012, October 23). The art of healthy eating. Retrieved from https://www.healthyfamiliesbc.ca/home/blog/art-healthy-eating
- Health Canada (2020, October 14). Eat whole grain foods. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-it-a-habit-to-eat-vegetables-fruit-whole-grains-and-protein-foods/eat-whole-grain-foods/
- Health Canada (2020, October 14). Healthy eating for parents and children. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/parents-and-children/#section-3