10 Foods to Include in Your Child’s Lunchbox to Boost Their Immune System

Schools can be a breeding ground for germs which may lead to your child getting sick. As much as you want to put your baby in a bubble and send them off into the world, they do in fact need to be exposed to germs. Germs help build their immune systems, so that they can fend off any nasties when the time comes. Instead of turning to the sanitizer, why not help the immune system do what it is supposed to do and provide them with foods that will help it function?

NUTRIENTS INVOLVED IN THE FUNCTIONING OF THE IMMUNE SYSTEM

There are some nutrients that play an important role in the functioning of the immune system which are listed below. These can be split into macronutrients, vitamins and minerals:

Macronutrients1

  • Amino acids are building blocks of the macronutrient protein. Amino acids such as Arginine and Glutamine, as well as the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) Valine, Isoleucine and Leucine all have an influence on immune system functioning.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Vitamins1

  • Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene
  • Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D – a nutrient we may not have thought to have an influence on the immune system. Vitamin D3 has been found to play a vital role in the differentiation, growth and function of a large number of immune cells1. Luckily in sunny South Africa we are at decreased risk of deficiency as sunlight converts cholesterol in our skin to Vitamin D3. So, remember not to neglect your outdoor time.
  • Vitamin E

Minerals1

  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

WHAT FOODS TO PACK FOR YOUR CHILD

So when it comes to deciding what food to provide your child, you should consider the foods that are highest in the nutrients mentioned above. Below is a table of 10 suggested foods that you should be including in your child’s lunchbox. Obviously, if your child has an allergy to any of the below, do not give them that food.

FOOD IMMUNE-SUPPORTING NUTRIENTS2 COMMENTS
Citrus fruit
  • Vitamin C
Citrus fruit comes in season in winter – just at the right time to help defend your body against winter colds. Nature is amazing! Nowadays, thanks to modern farming techniques, we have access to citrus fruit all year round. Slicing an orange into segments or packing a naartjie is a great way for your child to get the Vitamin C that they need.
Trail mix (pumpkin and sunflower seeds, peanuts/cashews/almonds, raisins, dried cranberries)
  • Vitamin E
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Iron
  • Zinc (smaller amounts)
Trail mixes can be a great source of energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. You can either buy one that is already made, or you can custom-make your own by selecting the ingredients you wish to add. Choose rather raw, unsalted nuts than the more processed options. Your child will only need about a ¼ of a cup as nuts and seeds tend to be high in fat, which is a concentrated source of energy. Though the fat is mostly good fats, overconsumption can lead to unwanted weight-gain.
Eggs
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6 & B12
  • Vitamin D (small amount)
  • Vitamin E
  • Iron
  • BCAAs
Most of these nutrients are found in the yolk. You can boil and peel eggs for your child to take to school.
Yoghurt
  • Vitamin B12
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
Yoghurt is made by adding live cultures (probiotics) that produce lactic acid to milk. Some yoghurts have additional probiotics added to them3. Probiotics have various health benefits, one of which is immune-support. Look out for yoghurts with active live cultures the next time you go shopping!
Whole-grain bread
  • Selenium
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
Children can be fussy eaters and may not like whole-grain bread. Try your best to get them used to eating this as young as possible! Another option is the FUTURELIFE® Smart Bread™ White. Generally we do not recommend white bread, but when you look at the nutritionals, it is high in Omega-3, a source of fibre (1g less per serving than the FUTURELIFE® Smart Bread™ Brown), is high in protein and low-GI, making it a healthy lunchbox option.
Baby spinach
  • Beta carotene (vitamin A)
  • Vitamin E
  • Folic acid
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
When you saw baby spinach you probably thought “yeah right my child won’t eat that! ”. But it can be done! Replace lettuce on your child’s sandwich with more nutritious baby spinach. Try to incorporate it as far as possible and get creative. Adding it to last night’s leftovers may be prove to be useful.
Baked beans or other legumes
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Iron
Dishing a portion of baked beans into a container can be a simple way of getting your child to consume legumes. Try to incorporate lentils into rice dishes or beans into stews, etc. so that you can pack leftovers for your child for the next day. The opportunities are endless when it comes to including these in your child’s diet.
Tuna
  • Selenium
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 (small amounts)
Tuna can be used to make tuna salad sandwiches or a delicious tuna pasta salad. It may not be the fish with the highest Omega-3 content, but it contains small amounts that add up in the end.
Peanut butter
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Vitamin E
Most people can remember peanut butter featuring in their childhood. Peanut butter and jam or peanut butter and banana sandwiches are some iconic combinations. And it is so nutritious! Not only does it contain the nutrients listed here, but it is also rich in fibre, protein and healthy fat. Opt for a peanut butter without added sugar and sodium – these are usually marketed for people living with diabetes, but are great for the general population.
Berries
  • Vitamin C
Berries contain certain compounds known as polyphenols which have antimicrobial properties. Berries tend to be quite pricey, so include them when you can. You can also often find them in the frozen section of the store for less. There are a large variety to choose from: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries to name a few.

CONCLUSION

Help your child fend off illness by giving them the correct food. There are so many possibilities when it comes to incorporating these foods into your child’s lunchbox – get creative!

FUTURELIFE® products contain all of the immune-supporting nutrients mentioned above. Most of our FUTURELIFE® products also contain Moducare®, which has been proven to help restore balance to the immune system. Our FUTURELIFE® Smart Fibre™ 2in1 comes with Howaru® Premium Probiotics, which contain strains that have been clinically proven to support the immune system along with improving gut function.

WHERE DOES FUTURELIFE® FIT IN?
FUTURELIFE® products contain all of the immune-supporting nutrients mentioned above. Most of our FUTURELIFE® products also contain MODUCARE® which has been proven to help restore balance to the immune system. Our FUTURELIFE® Bran Flakes come with HOWARU® Premium Probiotics, which contain strains that have been clinically proven to support the immune system along with improving gut function.

REFERENCES

1. Escott-Stump, Sylvia. Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. Baltimore : Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008.
2. L. Kathleen Mahan, Sylvia Escott-Stump and Janice L. Raymond. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. St. Louis : Elsevier Saunders, 2012.
3. [Online] http://www.healthyeating.org/Milk-Dairy/Nutrients-in-Milk-Cheese-Yogurt/Yogurt-Nutrition.aspx.