The pandemic kept most kids restricted to virtual classrooms for close to two years. Lack of physical activity, increased screen time and unhealthy dietary habits have had immense impact on the physical, mental and social development of children.

Additionally, kids are prone to ‘immunity debt’ as a result of not being exposed to the outside world, which causes a slower and inadequate development of the body’s defense system, eventually leading to negative consequences when one returns to normal life.

With restrictions now easing up and schools reopening, students are all set to flock back, meet their friends and indulge in much needed physical playtime as well as social interaction. While parents are relieved to see their kids slowly resume normal life, there is understandably an element of anxiousness. The biggest question in their minds is on how strong their child’s immunity is at present since kids in school are bound to be surrounded by their friends and teachers – and germs.

Healthy and immunity boosting foods don’t have to be boring. (Source: Representative image / Pexels)

Here comes the importance of nutrition in building the immune system in addition to aiding proper growth and overall development of a child.

The lack of a sufficient, varied, and nutritious diet can affect the cognitive development of a child, interfere with learning, and weaken their immune system.

There are several key nutrients that play a part in regulating, building, and strengthening the body’s immune system and promoting healthy growth in kids. These nutrients are found in foods like lean protein, fruits, vegetables, dairy, legumes, nuts, and grains. Parents should consider adding it in daily breakfast or lunch.

*Vitamin C: An essential vitamin that is produced in the body, it is abundantly found in many food groups. Fruits like oranges and lemons are a great source of vitamin C; so are vegetables likes broccoli, cauliflower, and peppers.

*Vitamin E: A key antioxidant that helps keep the nervous system healthy and it is an important nutrient that supports cell development. Moderately required in the children, Vitamin E can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, leafy & green vegetables.

healthy-food Include a variety of greens, fresh fruits and herbs in your kids’ diet. (Representative image / Pexels)

*Selenium: An important mineral that is essential for health functioning of the body and ensuring healthy cells. It is a great antioxidant and is usually found in abundance in vegetables. Foods like Beans, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds are great source of this mineral. It is also found in poultry and certain seafood.

*Arginine: This is an important amino acid that plays a key role in growth by promoting the multiplication of cells in the growth plate of the bones to help them grow faster when there is a delay in growth. Sources of Arginine are dairy products, non- veg foods, nuts etc.

*Vitamin K2: An important micronutrient that helps to transport calcium in the bones and ultimately helps build stronger bones. It is found in fermented foods, dairy, eggs, and meat.

*Zinc: An important nutrient for growth and immune system, it can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts

*Iron: A mineral that our bodies need for many functions as it helps muscles store and use oxygen. It is found in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, eggs, meat.

*Iodine: Iodine is a mineral the body needs to make thyroid hormones which control the body’s metabolism and many other important functions. It is found in sea food and iodized salts.

Parents should focus on protecting children by providing healthy nutrition to strengthen immunity and optimize physical, cognitive, and social development.

Feeding a child, a nutritious, balanced diet, which is beneficial for their holistic development and growth is easier said than done. This is especially true when parents are confronted with fussy eating that limits a child’s nutritional intake. Getting innovative with mealtimes and introducing fun, gamified ways to get your kids to eat their veggies and greens and pulses is something most parents struggle with on a daily basis. In such scenarios, it is recommended to opt for a health food drink / supplement that offers key macro and micronutrients that aid growth and build immunity in toddlers.

(The author is Associate Director, Nutrition Medical and Scientific Affairs, Abbott)

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