Ask the Expert – Building a Healthy Immune System

Ask The Expert is a weekly column on The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.

This week Registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger offers ideas for foods that can help your child build a stronger immune system.



Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE 
  • Education: M.S. Food Science & Human Nutrition, University of Florida
  • Degree in Communications, University of Florida
  • Nutrition consultant, writer, speaker, educator
  • Expertise in diabetes nutrition
  • Writer for Eating Well, Diabetic Living, Her Sports and Fitness magazines
  • Twitter: @nutritionjill
  • Website: All That’s Nutrition
  • LinkedIn Profile
  • Contact via email:

Question: What kinds of foods will keep my child’s immune system as healthy as possible?


Winter colds and flu are making the rounds. In some households, it seems that just as one family member is well, another gets sick. A well-running immune system can mount a powerful attack against viruses and other invaders, so paying attention to diet is especially important now. An apple a day is a good start to keeping the doctor away, but it’s the total diet – not any individual food or supplement – that stokes the immune system and keeps it humming.

The types of foods your child needs to fend off colds and illnesses are the same ones you need. Don’t fall for the hype of immune-boosting supplements and fortified foods. Simply eat a balanced diet. For most, that means a stronger emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Try to eat a whole grain and at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal. Here are a few to try, but again a balanced diet is required – not any specific food.

Beans: Baked beans, kidney beans and others are a powerhouse of nutrients including zinc which may reduce some upper respiratory infections. Smash up some white beans to thicken soups and stews. No one will ever know they’re there. Add red or black beans to salads and pasta.

Oats: another good source of zinc and a perfect breakfast food. Instead of using breadcrumbs, you can also add oats to meatballs and meatloaf.

Bell peppers, broccoli, citrus, kiwis and berries: These are all good sources of vitamin C. Research isn’t clear that extra vitamin C helps treat or prevent colds, but vitamin C-rich foods are packed with other antioxidants and nutrients, so it’s a good idea to include them daily. Clementines are especially nice for children because they are small, seedless, easy-to-peel, delicious and not as messy as other citrus fruits.

Mushrooms: Researchers at Tufts University suspect that the simple white button mushroom may enhance immune function by increasing the production of antiviral compounds. If your kids aren’t used to eating mushrooms, introduce them with foods they already like such as pastas and casseroles.

Finally, don’t forget that frequent hand washing and other good hygiene habits are also necessary to protect your health and your family’s health. Oh and get outside in the sunshine too.

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Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by


  1. Bec

     I didn’t know baked beans contained zinc?

  2. tonebone

    I have psoriatic arthritis and was wondering, because my immune system ‘volume-knob’ has been turned up to 10, does that mean I have a better or worse chance of getting colds and/or the flu every year?

    Thank you.

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