Getting immune ready for back to school

(Editor’s Note: Mandy Faulkner is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, who graduated from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and owns Faulkner Family Nutrition. In this column, Mandy shares relevant information on the importance of your immune system. When Mandy is not busy with her nutritionist career, she and her husband, Dan, own and manage Stittsville’s Market at the Barn.)

Well it’s that time of year again. The time we switch out our tank tops for cozier knits, look forward to settling back into Fall routines, and of course the time when we gear up to get the kids back to school. It is also the time of year when some parents begin to dread the back to school/daycare influx of colds and other bugs that seem inevitable this time of year. 

What makes this school year a little different than most, is that social isolation, various public health lockdowns, mandatory masking, and social distancing over the past 18 plus months have limited kids’ exposure to common viruses. This means that for many, their immune systems are out of practice and may not be as strong as we want them to be.  

Remember, it is important to understand that getting a cold or seasonal bug is not necessarily a bad thing – for the vast majority of the population, especially children, it actually helps keep the immune system in check.  Our immune system is in constant communication with our internal environment all the while receiving and deciphering messages from our external environment. It’s made up of a network of cells and organs that work together to identify and protect the body from threats such as viruses and bacteria.  When exposed to a virus or bacteria, our immune cells remember when it was last exposed and  it recalls what it needs to do. A healthy functioning immune system is able to fight a pathogen rather quickly and usually without incident. However, like with any body system, the immune system needs the proper tools and support to do its job.

I will share with you a few ways to help strengthen your child’s immune system (and yours) so that when they do encounter these pesky germs, which they inevitably will, your immune systems will be prepared to handle them. 

Here’s how…

Quantity and Quality Sleep
Sleep is necessary for our body to repair itself. Our body’s ability to fight infection is impaired when we are sleep deprived. Sleep restores the immune system. Supporting our kids (and ourselves) to get a good night’s sleep will go a long way. While we sleep, we produce more immune cells that help identify and fight pathogens that we’ve been exposed to during the day. 

  • Create a bedtime routine.
  • Support natural melatonin production by turning off devices 90 minutes before bed. 

Stress Management
When the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline rise, the immune system’s response is lowered. 

  • Check in with your kids about their feelings and any worries they may have leading up to the return to school and group activities. 
  • Ensure that everyone has downtime; rest is critical to maintaining a healthy immune system. 
  • Incorporate deep breathing throughout the day.
  • Find time to free play.

Eat to fuel the body
A varied nutrient dense diet of whole foods will go a long way to keep your immune system in good working order. 

Eat dark leafy greens and deeply pigmented foods, quality protein and fats as they are rich in vitamins and minerals that support immune health. Whole foods give us the building blocks for all of the metabolic and biochemical processes that our body needs to do all of its jobs. The more highly refined and processed foods, the further away they are from what our body recognizes.

  • Choose live, good quality, natural whole foods
  • Eat as seasonably and local as you can
  • Get back to the kitchen. Take a cooking class, go to the library and check out some new cookbooks, and have fun with it!

Some of the key nutrients needed that support the immune system are:

​ACES + Zinc and Vitamin D
This is the group of powerful antioxidants Vitamin A, C, E, and the minerals Selenium and Zinc that improves immune function by fighting off free radicals in the body. Many of these vitamins and minerals work better together. 

Vitamin AVitamin CVitamin ESeleniumZinc
Sweet PotatoBell PeppersSunflower seedsBrazil nutsGrass-fed beef
Dark leafy greensOrangesAlmondsWhole GrainsGreen peas

There are also many foods like garlic, ginger, lemon, and raw honey that provide many nourishing properties. 

Vitamin D is also very important in the activation of our immune cells. Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin from sun exposure.  Once the shorter days begin, it may be beneficial for some to supplement with a good quality vitamin D3. It’s best to get levels checked before supplementing.

Reduce sugar
A spike in sugar intake can impact the immune systems’ ability to fight off those pesky bugs. Instead of ultra processed foods and added sugar like those found in candy, crackers, cookies, fruit juices, and sugary drinks, opt for fresh fruit, vegetables, and water.  Have pre-cut fruit and veggies ready and easily accessible for snacks. 

Stay hydrated
Water is vital to our health. It helps carry oxygen to our cells, is critical for nutrient transportation, and it also flushes toxins from our body. Try adding mint, cucumber, lemon, or berries to flavour water.

Our lymphatic system moves lymph (the clear fluid that contains white blood cells that help fight infection) throughout our body, similar to our circulatory system. However, unlike our circulatory system that has the heart to pump and move our blood, the lymphatic system depends on the motions of the body’s muscles to move it. So, getting regular movement and exercise is critical to keep this infection fighting fluid moving throughout our body.

Gut Health
With over 70% of our immune system residing in our gut, it’s critical that we do what we can to make sure our gut is as robust as it can be. Probiotics are the helpful  and beneficial bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics are the food that feed the probiotics. 

  • Probiotic rich food examples: kefir, kombucha, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, apple cider vinegar, tempeh. 
  • Prebiotic rich food examples: apples, asparagus, banana, sweet potato, onions, garlic, leeks, dandelion root, chicory root, jicama 

Here’s a delicious Immune Supporting Smoothie to try:

  • 1 cup Pureed Pumpkin (or steamed sweet potato)
  • 1 Banana (frozen)
  • 1/2 tsp Turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsps Ginger
  • 1 tbsp Ground Flax Seed
  • 3/4 cup Unsweetened Almond Milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 2 Navel Oranges (peeled and sectioned)
  • 1 tbsp Raw Honey (or maple syrup)
  • Vanilla Protein Powder (optional – but makes it taste like a creamsicle)
    Place all ingredients into your blender and blend very well until creamy. Pour into glasses and enjoy!

Whole foods are by far my favourite way to get the nutrients into our body, but I also understand that it may not always be possible.

Here are some supplements that help support the overall health and immune system that I use in our home to ensure our daughter is prepared for the return to school…

Whole plant concentrates to help fill any nutritional gaps.

Back to School Immune Support supplement recommendations include probiotics, Vitamin D3, Omega-3, and some herbal immune supports, all which can be found in my on-line dispensary.

If you do find that your little one is coming down with something like the common cold, here’s a tried and true practice we use in our home. You can read more about it here.


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