Boosting ‘back-to-school’ immunity for parents

Boosting ‘back-to-school’ immunity for parents

It’s that time of year again! As you prepare for back-to-school, you may be overlooking an important factor in making the new school year a success: immune system support. Back-to-school often means back-to-school bugs  and as kids head back to the classroom this September, maintaining a strong immune system throughout the school year seems more important than ever right now – and not only for your kids, but for you too. Your immune system needs to be strong too.

There is no ‘magical pill’ you can take to boost your immune system, so be wary of expensive supplements claiming to miraculously boost your immune system. A holistic, 360 approach is needed. So here are some ways you can naturally increase their (and your) immunity….

  1. Eat the rainbow

One of the best ways to support your immunity with nutrition is by nourishing your body with whole foods and by eating the rainbow – try and get as many different colours of fresh fruit and vegetables into your daily diet as possible. Make sure you switch it up regularly too, getting lots of different fruits and veg into your diet, so you benefit from the different vitamins and micronutrients from different foods.

At home, roasting veg with garlic, soy sauce, or ginger gives them a lot more flavour and makes them more palatable for kids, and blending as many veg as you possibly can into a tomato sauce for pasta works a treat too. At school, avoid sweet treats in lunch boxes and swap for nuts and fruits coated in yoghurt – they’re packed with zinc, which is also a really effective immunity booster.

  1. Vitamin C

Probably the most well-known nutrient for immune defence; vitamin C helps support a normal healthy immune system by helping to protect cells and keep them healthy. This vitamin can easily obtain through diet as it is abundant in many foods, such as: citrus fruit,

red and green peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli and spinach.

  1. Vitamin D

This vitamin is crucial for activating immune defences and without sufficient intake, the immune system will not be able to react to fight off infections in the body. The best source of vitamin D is through the skin’s exposure to sunlight, though food sources include: Oily fish, red meat, egg yolks. The UK Department of Health recommend that we all supplement vitamin D throughout the winter months, with children under 5 years old considered an ‘at risk’ group for vitamin D deficiency, it is recommended that they should be given a daily supplement all year round. Though with an estimated 1 in 6 children in the UK suffering from low levels due to lack of sunlight and the inability to obtain sufficient levels through diet alone, a daily supplement should be considered for children of all ages.

  1. Garlic

With antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties; it is is known to boost the immune system, thanks to the sulphur-containing compound, allicin.

  1. Almonds

They contain Vitamin E, and just half of a cup provides nearly 100% of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin E.

  1. Drink bone broth

Bone broth is packed full of nutrients and a whole host of vitamins and minerals to help support your immune system. The main way it supports your immune system is with anti-inflammatory compounds that boost your immunity. Collagen and gelatin are vital proteins found in bone broth which are required to support your gut health – vital as most of your immune system is located in your gut. Plus, the amino acids in bone broth are great to support and boost energy levels. Homemade will have much more collagen, gelatin and amino acids and essential minerals. I like to supercharge my bone broth with garlic for its powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, chilli, turmeric, cinnamon and fresh ginger to also help support your immune system with their anti-inflammatory benefits. Some kids will drink bone broth straight, but it’s easy to sneak into their diet in casseroles, pastas and quinoa dishes, soups, stir-fires or just add a little to any mashed veggies if you are weaning – it will give veggies a flavourful, nutrient dense kick!

  1. Stock up on zinc

Try to incorporate plenty of zinc-rich foods in your diet, including pumpkin seeds, spinach, and cacao.

  1. Gut health

Think of your gut as a personal bodyguard – 70% of your immune system is in your gut! Keep your gut healthy to keep your immune system healthy. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts (microorganisms) that have various health benefits when consumed and that are easily introduced into our bodies to keep the bacteria happy and to keep our digestive systems ticking over nicely. You can go down the food route, but unless your kids are really adventurous eaters and will try fermented foods like kimchi, miso, kefir, tempeh, and sauerkraut –  live yoghurt is a good fall-back option (but make sure they are no added sugar varieties). Aside from yoghurt, you can head down the supplement route. If you turn to supplements, just remember that not all supplements are created equally. Many have much lower strains of beneficial bacteria and as such are often ineffective. You are looking for a diverse range of strains, at least 14. Avoid pure-culture (freeze-dried) probiotics which don’t survive stomach acid as well.

  1. Add some immune boosting spices into your diet

Turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are packed with immune boosting antioxidants and anti-inflammatories so add them into your diet where you can.

  1. Selenium

A less well-known mineral that contributes to a healthy immune system is selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that lowers oxidative stress in the body, reducing inflammation and enhancing immunity. Good sources of selenium include: brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs.

Nourish yourself OFF the plate too

As well as nutrition, it’s important to take a holistic approach to boosting your immunity. Sleep, stress and exercise are also key for immune support.

Be strict with sleep

Not getting enough sleep can lead a weakened immune system because lack of sleep is correlated with higher levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Stress is known to suppress the immune system. Studies have shown that less than 5 hours of sleep negatively affects the immune system, and that 7 to 9 hours of sleep is ideal for adults, and 9 to 11 hours of sleep is ideal for school-age children. So make sure your little ones get enough sleep.  If you’re having trouble getting your little one to settle in at night, start by cutting out television and video games before bed, especially programs that have any scary images. Also, food and drinks containing sugar and caffeine are best avoided near bedtime since they can cause hyperactivity in children. Having a regular relaxing bedtime ritual can help your child mentally and physically prepare for sleep. For example, a warm bath followed by some bedtime stories or soothing music can help a child relax and prepare for sleep.

Not enough sleep can really knock the immune system, so it’s crucial that your bundle of joy is getting enough shuteye. If they’re a bit hyped up, or nervous about something happening at school the next day, magnesium is known as ‘nature’s chill pill’ and science suggests that the miracle mineral helps us not only fall asleep initially, but stay asleep too as it improves the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. Great magnesium-rich foods include pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables and avocado; a calming, magnesium-packed night-time snack of yoghurt and banana is a good choice too.


Regular, moderate exercise boosts the cells responsible for attacking bacteria. These cells also appear to work faster in those who exercise, which better equips your immune system against viruses and infections. However, be aware that immune response may dip for several hours after intense exercise, moderate exercise is the key here. A 30-minute bike ride with your kids is a great activity to improve your immune system.

Louise Murray is an Integrated Health Coach with the qualification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and a Mindfulness Coach. She looks at nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them with nutrition advice as well as coaching around 12 different aspects of one’s life to take a truly holistic approach to wellness. Through her work Louise discovered that it’s busy working women, who often put their own needs last after family and career, benefit from her support the most. She helps them fill their lifestyles with healthy balanced choices and live truly well, being the best version of themselves.