How to Strengthen My Toddler’s Immune System

If it feels like this Winter has been a never-ending cycle of sickness in your home, you’re certainly not alone! We all want our little ones to be the picture of health with a super-charged immune system, right?

Well, not quite.  Let me explain.

The Truth About “Boosting” Your Immune System

As a dietitian, I often hear the phrase “boost the immune system”. Boosting the immune system isn’t actually what we want to do (and is impossible). The truth is, yes, there are nourishing foods that we all should be consuming regularly (and feeding our kids) to support immune function. However, there are no “immune-boosting foods” to speak of, and even if there were, that would not be a good thing. See, to “boost the immune system” would actually mean that your immune system would shift into over-drive. An overactive immune system can put you at risk of developing autoimmune disorders. This is not good. The goal is to keep your immunity in check (functioning normally) so that you’re able to prevent infection and sickness.

How? Instead of searching for the elusive “immune-boosting” miracle food, let’s focus on what we can do to support our kids’ immune systems. As a dietitian and mom of 3 kids, I am here to walk you through some simple nutrition tips that will help support your kiddo’s natural immune function throughout the year.

1)    Take the Sunshine Vitamin Daily

This might be an obvious one since the evidence behind vitamin D and immune health is so well documented. If you and your kiddos have not jumped on the vitamin D supplement train yet, this is your nudge to start! Every person, regardless of age, should be taking a vitamin D supplement daily.

Our bodies are amazing in that we can make vitamin D just by allowing our skin to soak in sun rays! Unfortunately, we still don’t get enough. If you’re living in North America, especially at higher latitudes, or dealing with winter darkness, that sunlight isn’t always packing enough punch to get that vitamin D synthesis going in your skin (and that’s even without factoring in sunscreen— which is important for other health reasons!).

Vitamin D is much more than a bone-building nutrient. If the body has enough of this vitamin, it doesn’t just strengthen immune function, it actually regulates it, keeping it from going into overdrive and preventing autoimmune disorders.

How do we get enough vitamin D? Although there are food sources of vitamin D such as fortified dairy products, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fatty fish, we generally don’t get enough vitamin D from food alone. This is why I recommend children and adults of all ages to take a daily vitamin D supplement:

Age Vitamin D Supplement Daily Dosage*
0-12 months 400 IU vitamin D drops
1-8 years 600 IU- 800 IU
9-18 years 800 IU- 1000 IU
18+ years 1000-3000 IU

*Note: this supplementation range is safe for each age group. However, your doctor or dietitian may recommend a lower or higher dosage based on individual needs, lifestyle, and medical history.

2)    Focus on Gut Health

Though a lot remains to be discovered in the science world, the connection between gut health and immune function is becoming clearer every day.

So, how do you help your child build a healthy gut?

A huge part of it involves serving foods that help fuel the friendly bacteria hanging out in their gut! These healthy microbes, called probiotics, thrive off of the fibre from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils. Not only do they reduce inflammation in the body, they help to fight pathogens, support immune cell function, and even produce antimicrobial substances that help get rid of harmful bacteria.

In this chart you will find specific foods to add to your child’s diet rich in non-digestible fibres (also known as prebiotics) that feed healthy bacteria as well as foods that already contain live probiotics:

Prebiotic containing foods Probiotic containing foods
Garlic Yogurt
Onion Yogurt drinks
Bananas Sauerkraut
Asparagus Kimchi
Apples Tempeh
Barley Raw cheeses
Oats Kefir


Another key tip is to make sure your child always has access to water or a water bottle to maintain healthy bowel function. Drinking enough water, especially during activities or in warm environments will support proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, maintain bacteria diversity, and support an overall healthy immune system!

3)    Offer Foods Rich in Antioxidants, Zinc and Iron

Food rich in antioxidants, zinc, and iron can help build a strong immune system. If your child happens to be going through a cautious eating phase, that’s completely ok.  As long as a variety of nutritionally dense foods are offered daily, chances are your little one will get everything that they need over the course of the week!

The below chart highlights foods that are rich in nutrients and compounds that contribute to a strong immune system:

Nutrient Food Sources What it Does
Iron –        Red meat

–        Chicken thigh or drumsticks

–        Fish

–        Organ meats

–        Legumes

–        Tofu and tempeh

–        Nuts and seeds

–        Dark leafy greens

–        Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, pasta, and breads

Iron is key for oxygen delivering throughout the body, the function of immune cells, antiviral defense systems, and antibody production that help target specific pathogens.
Zinc –        Shellfish such as oysters, mussels, crab and lobster

–        Red meat

–        Poultry

–        Salmon, haddock and sardines

–        Eggs

–        Chickpeas, beans and lentils

–        Nuts and seeds

–        Whole grains

–        Fortified grains such as breakfast cereals and breads

Zinc is essential to white blood cell function, antioxidant defence, skin and mucosal barrier function, wound healing and inflammation regulation.
Vitamin C –        Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit

–        Strawberries

–        Kiwi

–        Papaya

–        Pineapple

–        Mango

–        Bell peppers

–        Broccoli

–        Brussels sprouts

–        Tomato

–        Spinach

Known for its antioxidant properties, vitamin C helps reduce inflammation, promote collagen synthesis for skin health and wound healing, enhance immune cell activity and production, and plays a crucial role in antiviral defense.
Omega-3s –        Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines.

–        Chia seeds

–        Flax seeds

–        Walnuts

–        Omega 3 enriched foods such as omega 3 eggs, milks, yogurts, and juices

Omega-3 fats help regulate inflammation, reduce damage from oxidative stress, improve integrity of respiratory and digestive tracts, and enhance the performance of immune cells.
Polyphenols –        Garlic, turmeric

–        Berries

–        Citrus fruits

–        Onions

–        Nuts

–        Green leafy vegetables

–        Red grapes

–        Cocoa powder and dark chocolate

A group of compounds found in plants that are associated with immune-enhancing effects and anti-inflammatory properties.


There you have it. Three tips to support your kid’s immune system all year round.