This is one of my favorite times of year, the weather is cooling off, the garden is overflowing with tomatoes and the kids are dusting off backpacks in anticipation of school starting. Even our little ones have big transitions at this time of year, with beginning preschool or switching to new daycare.
For many of us it also means getting back to the morning ritual of packing lunches. Packed lunches, although time-consuming, can offer parents a secret defense against the colds and viruses that also make reappearance this time of year. Packed lunches can include immune-boosting foods and tricks to help your child’s immunity fight off those invading viruses.
Four Rules for Immune-Powering lunches for preschool (or the office):
- Include 1-2 vegetables and 1 fruit serving
- Avoid processed foods
- Include “super foods,” whenever you can
- Remember fluids
- Yes, 1-2 vegetable servings in their lunch. Kids over the age of 2 should be eating 5 servings of vegetables or fruits each day, which is doable if these foods are served at all meals, not just dinner. Why focus on vegetables? Vegetables are the richest source of nutrients that specifically help your body strengthen its defense mechanisms and therefore the most important food to tuck into lunches.
- Avoid processed foods. Processed foods start with fresh foods, remove many good nutrients, like vitamin C, and mix-in many less healthy ingredients, such as dyes, preservatives and salt. This makes the food grocery-shelf stable for months or years. However, the nutrients that processing removes are often those that your immune system needs and the ingredients that are added, such as high fat and salt, can stymie your immune systems.
- Super foods are those rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that strengthen our immune response. These include vegetables, fruits, unroasted nuts, herbs and spices. Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamin C, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Nuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Herbs and spices contain 40 different anti-oxidative compounds and are 20 to 40 percent more potent than most fruit with regard to their anti-oxidative capacity. All of which helps bolster immunity and fight off illnesses.
- Fluids keep the wheels oiled. When we are dehydrated, our immune functions are compromised. This is true for adults and children. Make sure to include a water bottle in the lunch box. Ideally, offer water in between meals and milk (or Calcium-fortified milk substitute) at meals. Adults need 8 cups of water/day while kids 4-8 years old need just over 5.
Super Food Lunch Ideas:
Apple slices with Cinnamon (Cinnamon is a super food and keeps the apples from browning)
Cucumbers with fresh or dried mint
Jicama slices with lime and cilantro
Avocado slices on sandwiches
Don’t forget to add an ice pack to prevent spoilage!
About the Author: Dr. Emia Oppenheim aka “Mama Mia” is a blogger, mother of three and registered, licensed dietitian with a PhD in nutrition. With her background she is uniquely able to translate the world of nutrition research into usable, understandable information for families to apply to their everyday lives and menus.
Field, C., et al, (2002). Nutrients and their role in host resistance to infection. Journal of Leukocyte Biology.
Carlsen, M., et al, (2010). The total antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition Journal.