PREGNANCY & CHILDHOOD

7 Immune-Supporting Lunches and Healthy Snacks for Kids

7 Immune Supporting Lunches and Healthy Snacks for Kids

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Lunch can — and should — be nutritious and delicious. Here are several ways to achieve that for your kids.

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 AUG. 15, 2021   4 MIN. READ
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This year, as kids head back to school, immune health will understandably be top of mind for many parents.

While you can't protect your child from every germ in the classroom, there are things you can do to support your kid's immune system. In addition to encouraging personal hygiene and safe socialization, one way to help your child navigate their school's classrooms and hallways is packing them a few healthy snacks and a well-rounded lunch. 

Wondering what foods best support your child's immune systems? We've got you covered. Here are seven nutritious snacks for school that provide the vitamins, minerals and protein kids need to stay strong and resilient.

1. Tofu Nuggets

For a healthier take on chicken nuggets, try tofu nuggets. They're crispy, crunchy and delicious. And because they're made with tofu, they get high marks for iron needed to build healthy red blood cells. A single cup of tofu provides more than a third of the recommended Daily Value, which makes this a great option for your student's lunch bag.

You can prepare these tofu nuggets the night before, or if you're pressed for time, heat a box of ready-to-bake tofu nuggets that can be found in the frozen food aisle of most supermarkets.

To make it:

  • Cut 1 block drained extra-firm tofu into bite-sized chunks.
  • Transfer tofu to a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  • Season with garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt and pepper.
  • Add 1 tablespoon cornstarch and toss well.
  • Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet and bake in a 400°F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping halfway.
  • Remove from heat and cool.
  • Serve with a small container of BBQ sauce, honey mustard or ranch dressing for dunking.

2. Mini Fruit Kebabs

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 40-50% of children don't eat enough fruit. That can make it hard for them to get enough vitamin C, which plays a crucial role in immune health.

So, why not make mini fruit kebabs one of your go-to snacks for school? They're bright, colorful and easy to eat (no peeling required), so your kids are sure to enjoy them.

To make it:

  • Thread a combination of vitamin C-rich fruit — such as strawberries, clementine’s, pineapple and kiwis — onto toothpicks.
  • Serve with a container of low-fat vanilla or strawberry yogurt for dipping.

3. Roast Beef Pinwheels

Beef is a great source of zinc, a mineral that helps build new immune cells in the body and fosters proper growth and development. While your kid would probably enjoy having a hamburger for lunch, roast beef is a healthy alternative that keeps well in a school lunch bag. Consider packing them this creative, bite-sized twist on a roast beef sandwich that looks as good as it tastes.

To make it:

  • Whisk 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard with 2 teaspoons whipped cream cheese.
  • Spread on an 8-inch whole-wheat tortilla.
  • Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Layer with thinly sliced roast beef and baby spinach leaves.
  • Roll into a log and cut into 1-inch slices.
  • Serve with ½ cup sliced red bell pepper for an entire day's worth of vitamin C.

4. Tacos in a Box

If you have leftover roasted or grilled chicken, you've got the foundation of a powerful lunch. That's because chicken is a top source of protein, which helps build antibodies that defend against infection. You can effectively put it to work in this Mexican-themed bento box. Your kid will have fun making their own tacos at lunchtime, or they can choose to combine all the ingredients and eat it as a salad.

To make it:

  • Fill bento box compartments with equal parts diced roasted chicken, black beans and Monterrey Jack cheese cubes.
  • Serve with a small tortilla and a container of salsa for drizzling.

5. Breakfast for Lunch

Vitamin E doesn't just do good things for your child's immune system as an antioxidant. It is also needed for developing new cells. Yet more than 80% of people in the U.S. don't get enough of this powerful antioxidant. With roughly 20% of the recommended Daily Value for vitamin E, peanut butter can help fill the void. Or, if your child has a peanut allergy, vitamin E-rich sunflower seed butter is a great alternative.

For a fun spin on the usual PB&J sandwich, surprise your child with this breakfast-inspired sandwich.

To make it:

  • Toast 2 whole-grain waffles.
  • Spread 2 tablespoons peanut (or sunflower seed) butter on one of the waffles.
  • Top with 1 sliced banana.
  • Top with the remaining waffle and cut into halves.

6. Sweet Potato Chips

Vitamin A may be best known for its role in supporting vision and eye health, but it also has another important job — supporting skin and tissue health, with skin being your child's first line of defense against germs and bacteria. While carrots often get all the glory in this regard, the truth is, sweet potatoes boast more vitamin A than any other vegetable.

You can transform these root vegetables into healthy snacks for kids with this easy sweet potato chip recipe.

To make it:

  • Peel and thinly slice 1 small sweet potato.
  • Arrange on a baking sheet.
  • Spray with cooking spray and toss gently.
  • Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  • Bake in a 400°F oven for 30 minutes, flipping halfway.

7. Mini Salmon Melts

You may already know that vitamin D is essential for strong bones. But did you know that it also supports immune health? Trouble is, it's in very few foods. Luckily, fatty fish like salmon is one of them. One small 3-ounce serving supplies 70 percent of the vitamin D kids need in a day.

If your child isn't much of a fish eater, these mini bagel melts can win over even the pickiest eaters.

To make it:

  • Toast 2 whole-wheat mini bagels.
  • In a small bowl, combine 1 small can drained skinless, boneless canned salmon, 2 tablespoons chopped celery or onion and 1 tablespoon mayonnaise.
  • Spread salmon over 2 of the bagel halves. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon part-skim mozzarella cheese.
  • Place each bagel half in a toaster oven or broiler and broil until cheese is melted.
  • Top with remaining bagel halves.

Finally, don't forget the fluids. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, more than half of children ages 6-19 years don't drink enough water. Yet, even mild dehydration may impair their concentration and academic performance.

So, toss in a bottle of water, a Pedialyte powder pack or a carton of shelf-stable milk. It can make a big difference in the quality of your child's school day!

Understanding Your Childs Growth Spurt

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During childhood years (ages 6 to 12), your child undergoes steady growth and development with periods of more rapid growth known as “growth spurts.” If they're often hungry in between meals or their pants are suddenly too short, they may be experiencing a growth spurt.

It's important for parents to acknowledge and support their child's growth, especially during the rapid changes of a growth spurt, and reinforce healthy habits and behaviors during this time. Here's what to know. 

The Nutrients Teen Girls Need

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Between school, sports and maybe a part-time job, the teenage years may be some of the best — and busiest — times in a girl's life.

Those same years may be some of the busiest inside her body, too. While she grows, her body is working hard to add muscle, increase the number of red blood cells and finish building the bones she'll use for the rest of her life. 

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