Every year warm summer days – full of popsicles, swing sets and running around outside – roll into cooler, crisp weather – full of soups, bookbags, and the seemingly inevitable runny nose.
As the temperatures drop we begin spending less and less time outdoors for understandable reasons. However, less time outside means more time inside and that means being together and closer for longer periods of time.
This increases our exposure to others and in-turn the viruses that they carry which thrive during this season like the flu and common cold.
Flu season in the United States may begin as early as October and can last as late as May, and generally peaks between December and February. Coinciding perfectly with “Back to School” season making it feel almost inevitable that our little ones get sick.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are several ways you can help prepare and protect yourself and your family from seasonal viruses with preventative care.
Focus on Food
It is no surprise that I am a huge advocate for “Food First. Supplementation Second”. As a Health Educator, I help to teach people the power of what we eat and how to understand what foods can do for us within our own body. Ideally, I want to help individuals meet their nutritional needs with whole, real foods and only rely on supplements when necessary.
For example, times of true nutrient deficiency like an iron deficiency (anemia), supplements are the only way to reach a normal range while learning to eat the foods that can help to maintain normal range.
But in most cases, we can eat the foods we need to stay healthy! Some of the nutrients we need to focus on year round but especially during peak cold and flu season are:
Vitamin C Rich Foods
Vitamin C is important because it helps boosts the immune system and keeps infections at bay. It helps form and repair red blood cells, bones, and tissues. In addition to helping cuts and wounds heal, it also helps your little one’s gums stay healthy and strengthens their blood vessels- minimizing bruising from inevitable falls and scrapes. (1)
Vitamin C rich foods are typically an easy sell even to the pickiest of eaters. In fact, just 3 medium strawberries meet the daily Vitamin C needs of a toddler (age1-4).
The daily recommendation for
Ages 1-4 : 15mg Vitamin C
Ages 4-8: 25mg Vitamin C
Ages 9-14: 45mg Vitamin C
Probiotic Rich Foods
Research about our gut microbiome is still in its infancy but what we do know is that consuming foods rich in probiotics can help keep us healthy. Probiotics are good bacteria that go into our gut and destroy the bad bacteria that we acquire from foods we eat and also various medications.
Different foods have varying levels of probiotics naturally inside of them and different strains contribute to different things. For example, studies have found that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains when consumed over a long period of time can help to decrease the duration of the common cold. (2)
Many of these probiotic rich foods take some time to learn to like due to the strong flavor of fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi. Also, many fermented vegetables are high in sodium so they should be limited in babies under 12 months. However, yogurt (dairy and non-dairy)can be offered to babies 6 months and up and is a great starter food when working on introducing probiotic-rich foods. To know if a food is rich in probiotics always check the labels for “live active cultures”.
There is no set amount for daily probiotics however offering a variety of these can be beneficial. If you feel your child needs a probiotic supplement while they learn to like the food sources consult your pediatrician.
Vitamin D Rich Foods
Vitamin D is commonly referred to as the ” sunshine vitamin” because the body can produce it when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However many obstacles interfere with vitamin D production from sun exposure (time of the year, using Sunscreen, covering with clothes- by the way, I do encourage using SPF), smog, clouds, skin pigmentation, and geographic location. Because of this variance- it’s highly advised to also eat vitamin D rich foods!
Vitamin D is crucial for children’s good health and development. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and builds strong teeth and bones. It also functions as a hormone with many other jobs in the body, including regulation of the immune system, insulin production, and cell growth. (3)
The foods with the most are fatty fish and fish oils- however, these aren’t always the most palatable foods to toddlers and babies (but should still be offered!). That’s why food companies add vitamin D (fortify) to milk, yogurt, baby formula, orange juice, cereal, and cheese. *make sure to check the label*
Kids older than 1 year need 600 IU of vitamin D a day. For infants under one year old need 400 IU of vitamin D per day but consult your pediatrician as their needs will vary based on feeding method (formula or breastmilk) and also the mother’s current Vitamin D status.
Always check with your child’s pediatrician before giving medicine or supplements to babies and children.
Vitamin A Rich Foods
Vitamin A plays an important role in vision , bone growth, and helps protect the body from infections. Vitamin A is “associated with T cell function, making it a vital component of a healthy immune system. Vitamin A maintains the integrity of mucus membranes, which are at the front line of our defenses against viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections”. (5)
Ages 1 to 3 years: 1,000 international units (IU), or 300 mcg RAE per day
Age 4 years and up: 1,333 IU, or 400 mcg RAE per day
Cook with Medicinal Seasonings and Herbs
Cooking with seasonings, spices, and herbs not only adds delicious flavors and aroma to what we eat but it can also offer some health benefits. It is safe to use spices and seasonings in a small amount to babies as soon as they begin eating solids. Some delicious spices, seasonings, and herbs that are known for their health benefits are:
- Ceylon Cinnamon
- Raw Honey (after age 1)
Keep Hands, Surfaces, and Toys Clean
**Okay- let’s be real– that should totally say “Keep Hands, Surfaces, and Toys as clean as possible” because as a real-life mom myself I know that there is only so much we can do especially when our children are out of our care!**
Both colds and the flu can be passed along through contaminated surfaces, including hands, tables and toys. A very important step in stopping the spread of these germs and viruses is by washing your hands and sanitizing surfaces around your home and/or childcare facilities, if possible.
A great way to help out with making sure your child’s childcare facilities are sanitary is by dropping off some extra hand sanitizer or disinfectant spray! I know your teachers will appreciate it!
Some of my favorite products for safe and effective cleaning:
- Branch Basics Spray
- Aspen Clean Spray
- Force of Nature Spray
- Seventh Generation Wipes
- Hello Bello Hand Sanitizer Spray
- Everyone Hand Sanitizer Spray
- Dr. Bronner’s Hand Sanitizer
- Honest Hand Sanitizer
- Clean Mama’s DIY Homemade Hand Sanitizer (recipe here)
- Clean Mama’s DIY Disinfectant Spray (recipe here)
This post contains affiliate links. These cost nothing extra to you but I do receive a small commission. Full disclaimer here.
Limit Exposure to Infected People
It is so hard when everyone is trapped indoors all winter or in a classroom/daycare setting, but when at all possible try to limit exposure to infected people.
A large part of limiting exposure to infected people is making an effort to keep our own “infected and ill people” at home when at all possible. I completely understand things happen, taking off work is hard/impossible at times, finding a babysitter for a sick child can be a nightmare, and sometimes they don’t appear sick until they are already at school or daycare. There are so many things in life that can be out of our control but when at all possible try to keep them home and away from others. (But please don’t put an unreal expectation on yourself. My sister passed along many unpleasant colds to me over the years and I still love my mom. No ill will or hard feelings there.)
As parents it is hard to stop our little one’s from taking a sip of our drinks (like water or smoothies) but there are some easy ways to reduce sharing germs! **This should really be called “Reduce Sharing”**
Avoid eating directly from the box or bag!
This is a great habit to start to prevent sharing germs and also to help prevent “mindless eating”. Make sure to pour snacks that your purchase in bulk into a snack cup or serve on a plate rather than allow everyone to eat from the bag or box. This can not only pass germs along during that eating period but also infect anyone else that eats from that box/bag later.
Make sure everyone has their own cup!
Even though this won’t stop them from trying to sip some of yours, making sure everyone has their own cup can at least cut down on a little of the germ spreading. I recommend finding a fun cup for each child (Jax loves his Paw Patrol cup) to help make drinking water special.
Sanitize or Replace Toothbrushes Periodically
Oral hygiene is a HUGE part of eating! Which means our toothbrushes go into our mouths 2-3 times per day. Making a point to sanitize and/or replace your family’s toothbrushes periodically can be a great way to help prevent them from getting sick. Really anything that periodically goes into our mouths such as pacifiers, reusable straws, and teething toys require a good santizing.
Preventative care is the best way to help prepare yourself and your family for battling cold and flu season. However, preventative measures do not guarantee health but they do significantly reduce the likilhood of contracting something. Adults have an average of 2-3 colds per year, and children have even more so anything we can do to reduce that is important! (4)
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you should call your doctor if you or your child has one or more of these conditions:
- symptoms that last more than 10 days
- symptoms that are severe or unusual
- if your child is younger than 3 months of age and has a fever or is lethargic
You should also call your doctor right away if you are at high risk for serious flu complications and get flu symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle or body aches. “People at high risk for flu complications include young children (younger than 5 years old), adults 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.” Your doctor will determine if you or your child has a cold or the flu and recommend over the countner treatment to help with symptoms. (4)
If you do find yourself or little one to be sick here are some ideas for healthy and hydrating meals! I also recommend looking into using elderberry syrup upon becoming symtompatic. It has been seen to reduce the serverity of symptoms and shorten the duration of viruses but is not safe for everyone. Learn more about elderberry here.
Always check with your child’s pediatrician before giving medicine or supplements to babies and children.
**The author of this site encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. For more information please read our full disclaimer here.**